Downward Mobility by Robert Lupton

This is an excellent and extremely provocative excerpt by Robert Lupton from his story-telling book entitled: Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989, pp. 104-105.

A passion for excellence. Diligence. Drive. Efficiency. The competitive edge. These are the values of achievers, the essence of upward mobility and the stuff of which success is made.

Enter Jesus, the Christ. Mighty God. The Everlasting Father. Emptied. Weak. Dependent. Here to show us the way to greatness, heavenly greatness, by becoming least. King turned servant. Downwardly mobile. What sort of ethic is this?

There are those who will find it exceedingly difficult to understand, the Teacher said. Like the wealthy, successful, educated ones. But there will be a few renegades and other out-of-step people who will be given eyes to perceive the kingdom. They will listen to the homeless leader who owned one change of clothes, didn’t budget to pay his taxes, and was an affront to self-respecting, responsible believers.

“Take no thought for tomorrow… don’t worry about what you will eat or wear… don’t lay up treasure here… give your coat… share your bread… lend without expecting a return.” Wonderful rhetoric but highly impractical. Suicidal if taken literally—and so the reasonable folks did not take it that way.

Indeed, his teachings are suicidal for the successful. The downward mobility of the kingdom strikes at the very heart of our earthly strivings. It feels like death to let go of our diligent preparations for the next step up and the investments that insure our tomorrows. Who in their right mind would gamble away a reasonably predictable and secure future on a high-risk, intangible faith venture like the kingdom of God? A balanced portfolio makes more sense. A good mix of earthly investments with enough heavenly stock to carry us if the bottom falls out of the economy. The best of both worlds, we might say.

Jesus, the Christ. Mighty God. Destitute. He says we can’t have it both ways, that our security is either in God or mammon (wealth). He tells us that the servant is not greater than his master, that greatness—his and ours—is found only in servanthood, in choosing the lesser positions while yielding the better places to others. It is only in laying down our privilege, our control, our comfort for the sake of others, he says, that we can know life as he created it to be.

Heavenly hosts burst forth in hallelujahs (not tears) at the sight of their naked, helpless Creator in the straw. Heaven’s best lavished on the least of the earth. Glory to God, they exclaimed. The first fruits of a new world order have come, and he has revealed the values of his kingdom: vulnerability, obedience with abandon, lavish giving, faith that defies reason, volitional downward mobility.

Foolishness. God has chosen the weak to lead the strong and the foolish to confound the wise. His end? That all may know his utter dependability to care for those who will risk trusting him.

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