Monday, August 25, 2008

Fear not little flock

As Jesus was sending out the seventy-two disciples on mission ahead of him he said, “I am sending you out as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3). This does not seem to be the best recruiting strategy. It is a portrait of vulnerability if ever there was one. It is akin to Jesus saying, “I am sending you out as swimmers among the great whites.” The contrast between lamb and wolf is stark. It is the contrast between gentleness and violence. It’s the contrast between predator and prey. Is there doubt what happens when lambs are exposed to wolves? One writer put it this way: “We are called to be lamb chops to a hungry world.” Commentator John Noland writes, “The vulnerability of those sent is a mirror of Jesus’ own vulnerability and is to be similarly met” (551).

In Luke 12:32 Jesus comforts his disciples with these words: “Do not fear little flock for it is the Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Jesus does not comfort the “little flock” with promises that he will make them a huge, well armed, and mighty flock. His pleasure in giving them the kingdom is connected to the fact that they are not great and mighty as the world defines those terms.

This seems to always be God’s pattern. He purposes to use the weak things and the despised things to confound the powerful and the proud. Joseph, although he rose to great influence in Egypt, arrived there only after a long line of betrayals and suffering. Moses, having risen to the heights of power in Pharaoh’s Egypt as a young man was not ready to be used by God until after he had lost his power, status, and self-assurance. It was not until Moses lacked all confidence that he could do what God called him to do that he was truly ready.

Judges chapter seven tells us of Gideon and the army of 300. Once God had whittled the army down to 10,000 men He gave Gideon one more way to further reduce the number. God told Gideon to take them to the water and watch them drink. The ones that lapped the water would be the ones who would make up the fighting force. All others would be sent home.

Now, there is nothing superior about lapping water like a dog. It has been theorized that in drinking that way the soldiers were demonstrating greater watchfulness and would therefore make better soldiers. But this is not the point of the story. The seeming arbitrariness of the selection process underscores the fact that God’s goal was simply to make the army smaller thereby heightening their weakness. God was not trying to recruit a particularly elite team of special forces. He was ensuring that the victory He would achieve would not be a cause for human pride.

The apostle Paul was no stranger to weakness. Prior to his conversion Paul was a respected member of the Jewish ruling counsel. He was well educated and zealous. His adherence to the law was impeccable. If any Pharisee had reason to boast it was the man formerly known as Saul. But Paul came to understand that anything that fueled his confidence in his own flesh was ultimately a loss for the cause of Christ.

As a Christian, Paul endured great suffering and harassment. He knew the constant pressure of caring for churches. He even knew the pain of betrayal. But through it all Paul was eventually able to say, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:9-10).

Those of us raised in the church are at a bit of a disadvantage in that we are no longer shocked by the apostle’s words. But think about it for just a moment. Can you imagine boasting in weakness and insults? Can you imagine expressing gratitude for injuries received to the extent that they make you more dependent upon God? I was once told by a man dying of cystic fibrosis, “Anything that makes me realize how much I need Jesus is a friend.”

Above all these examples stands the cross. Never has there been a more despised thing; a more foolish thing. Paul writes,“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe” (1 Cor. 1:20-21). The apostle goes on to remind the Corinthians, “not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” All of this, Paul writes, please God who delights to use what the world deems weak, foolish, and nothing in order to bring an end to human pride.

In his book Too Good to be True Michael Horton writes:

“The theology of the cross sees God only where God has revealed himself,
particularly in the weakness and mercy of the suffering…We look for God in powerful places; in health, wealth, and happiness; in perfect families and prosperous nations, but God is truly to be found in the weak things of the world. In other words, we are talking about a theology for winners versus a theology for losers…

“In our Redeemer’s years on earth, the God who had created heaven and earth was now incarnate. He started out dependent on a poor couple barely capable of providing for their own basic needs. As Jesus approached his messianic vocation, John the Baptist announced, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29). So from the very beginning, Jesus lived under the shadow of the cross. It was not only on Good Friday, but from the moment he assumed our flesh and endured our shame, that he began to suffer for our redemption…

“So we already see the paradox emerging: the Father expresses his greatest pleasure in his Son precisely at those moments when the storm clouds of Good Friday gather on the horizon. The crucifixion is not something that happens to Jesus on his way to doing something else, like showing us how ‘good guys finish first,’ or how to make a difference in the world, or how to be a successful leader.”

1 comment:

James Hilden-Minton said...

Thanks for sharing this reflection. Over the years the theme of vulnerability has be come quite central to my sense of the gospel. Christ is the vulnerability of God. God meets us through both his vulnerability and ours. Vulnerability is a sign of the kingdom (wolf and lamb, Isaiah 11:6). And vulnerability, I believe, is God's way to bring about peace and security in this life.

Last fall I did a study of Luke 10:1-12. I was surprised that verse 6 speaks of sharing your peace with literally a "son of peace". So while the disciples are sent as lambs among wolves, they search out other children of peace who may already be as vulnerable as a lamb among wolves. In mission this meeting of vulnerability builds community and proclaims the true kingdom of peace.

You can my study and a song that went with it at

God bless you, James