Writing a mission statement is pretty common practice these days. Individuals do it. Businesses do it, both on the corporate level and in all the smaller levels of divisions and branch offices and departments. Groups do it, too, and it’s become an important part of congregational life.
Jesus did it–well, sort of. The Gospel writer Luke doesn’t share a succinct two- to four-sentence synopsis of what Jesus intends to do with his life. Instead, he offers the story of Jesus’ initial move into ministry:
Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” –Luke 4:14-21 NRSV
There’s a fair bit to unpack in this short report. We can, I think, safely assume that Jesus did not sit down one day with a blank sheet of paper (or its equivalant) to list the pros and cons of possible career choices, beginning with why carpentry would or would not be a fulfilling way to earn a living.
No, Luke begins by telling us that Jesus was “filled with the power of the Spirit.” Three chapters earlier in his Gospel Luke offers another “filled with the power of the Spirit” moment, one that quite likely had an impact on Jesus thirty years later. We focused on the song of Mary (popularly known as the Magnificat) the Sunday before Christmas in the lectionary. I can imagine Jesus as a young boy sitting at his mother’s side hearing her share her testimony of that experience. It’s worth recalling those words here in connection with Jesus’ calling, mission, and ministry:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” –Luke 1:46-55 NRSV
Notably, nowhere in either passage do we find anything about themes popular and prevalent in Christianity today: personal salvation, rescue from the burning fires of hell, promises of a blissful eternity in heaven, or a comfortable life of material affluence and political/social prominence in the here-and-now.
What we do find in the song of Mary and the words of Jesus (which includes a dramatic reading from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah) is a direct challenge to the principalities and powers that controlled the world then (and now) along with messages of hope and promise to the poor, the disadvantaged, and the marginalized. It’s as if the Spirit of God is proclaiming with boldness and intention that the way things are is not the way things ought to be, or certainly will be in the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
The mission of Jesus is to proclaim jubilee, the “year of the Lord’s favor.” The mission of Jesus is to heal and comfort and right wrongs. The mission of Jesus is to do God’s will, not merely in a theoretical way but in tangible actions. Of course, if that was the mission of Jesus of Nazareth then should it not also be the mission of those of us who dare to identify ourselves as Jesus’ disciples? We, too, begin with the Spirit of God resting upon us and sending us into the world to act in the stead of Christ.
* Note: I just got back in town from a wintertime vacation in a much warmer place than Missouri, so only had time to repost this previous ForeWords blog.
My most recent book, Speak to the Bones: How to Be a Prophetic People in a Time of Exile, is up on Amazon in both print and e-book formats: 161-page Book ; Kindle e-book. The ancient Hebrew prophets can serve as guides for modern-day prophetic communities to engage in actions for peace and social justice. Each of the 10 chapters includes questions for reflection and discussion, making this great for class use. My previous book What Was Paul Thinking? is also available on Amazon in both print and Kindle e-book editions.</em