What if our mission begins in deep attention?
This series in The Call is drawing on stories and themes in Luke 9, 10 and 11 to explore the nature of life and mission rooted in the person of Jesus.
In this article we’ll explore the latter part of Luke 10 and turn to themes of insight and attention. Mission in the 21st century requires us to be deeply attentive to God, to ourselves, to each other and to the contexts into which we have been called. Through such prayerful attention we may, in God’s grace, learn whatever insights we need to participate in the liberating mission of Jesus.
Insight as playful gift
To be attentive will require effort (and indeed we’ll be thinking of attention as a practice). But it’s important to note that for Jesus the insights that follow from attention seem to be gifts, and not dependent upon our efforts or abilities. According to Jesus “the wise and the intelligent” often miss out on insight, perhaps because they are so sure of themselves:
At that same hour Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” Luke 10:21
This verse is not the only place in the Gospels where Jesus is recorded as suggesting that we need to be like children. And perhaps one way into that possibility is to think of our work as play. Of course we need to be serious about our work, but what if we approach it in a playful manner?
Unsure of what to do in your mission context? How about asking what a playful next step might look like? And in this way the insights you need may appear naturally – and joyfully!
Attention as response to God’s love
The idea of insight as playful gift will not be popular with everyone. In the Gospel at the very moment of Jesus’ reference to the gift of insight, one of the “wise and intelligent” makes himself known.
Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
We find it very hard to believe that it is all gift. This bright lawyer is no exception, believing that somehow God’s favour must be earned. “What must I do?” is his question. Of course, that’s not a bad thing to ask. Some actions are necessary. And the answer (which he already knows) is deeply significant. But the lawyer is in danger of missing the point.
What he (and we) must do can only be a response to God’s love. God’s love cannot be initiated by any action on our part. But as we begin to appreciate the extent of God’s love our only response can be a growing love for God and for neighbour, and our deepening participation in the healing mission of Jesus. Can we allow the abundant nature of God’s love to begin to shape our attention and our actions in our local mission context?
Attention as seeing with compassion
At times it can seem that our compassion has reached its limit. There is so much hurt around, so much need in our world, that we can find ourselves beginning to shut ourselves off from it. The weight feels unbearable. This is understandable, but our calling is to remain open to God’s world and God’s people, to be tender and compassionate.
In our attempts to participate in Jesus’ mission we cannot of course do everything. But we can do something! And perhaps that begins in a commitment to simply not look away.
But a Samaritan while travelling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Luke 10:33–34
There’s a beautiful sparseness to Luke’s phrase “and when he saw him”. In this wellknown parable of the Good Samaritan, other travellers on the road look away. An issue too complex or challenging for them, perhaps. And we know the feeling. But the Samaritan makes an important decision – to see the injured man. This seeing then produces compassion, and compassion takes shape in action.
Can we resolve today to see what is happening on our streets, to be truly attentive to our neighbourhood, and to be open to the acts of compassion that may ensue?
Attention as a practice
Such compassionate seeing is actually deeply natural. But it takes commitment and practice for it to become a way of life. It’s wonderful that the next story in Luke’s Gospel (and the last in chapter 10) is an account of the sisters Mary and Martha with Jesus.
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks… Luke 10:38–39
Of course it’s tempting to give Martha a hard time. But the tasks need doing, and Martha does them! She would be great to have as a co-worker in any mission venture. So thank you Martha. But when Martha complains about her sister Jesus gently points out another possibility:
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:41–42
I wonder if Jesus has a word with Mary, suggesting that she help her sister as well as pay attention to him! But Jesus’ point is clear. Deep attention to him is the vital requirement for anyone seeking to follow his path.
How will you give attention to Jesus today?