The focus on the poor that we find in the Gospels has generated considerable discussion and molded the missions policies of churches. Sadly, this has sometimes been to the detriment of the gospel. As Western Christians feel the heat of advancing secularism and the true church seems to be a smaller and smaller group of people, we need to take seriously something else—“smallness” in the life of Jesus. Doing so will reassure us that we don’t have to be big and influential to follow in Jesus’ way.
It’s hard not to see that much of the vivid teaching of the Lord Jesus relates to small and marginal groups. The text that jumps to mind and has sometimes been (sometimes incorrectly) called upon to justify smallness and “theologies of the little flock” is Luke 12.32: “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” The context of this exhortation is anxiety in face of temporal pressures and the attraction of the things “the nations of the world seek after” to alleviate such cares. What is in view is not primarily the smallness of the flock but the wonder of the kingdom the Father gives to a group of people that is insignificant in worldly terms. One commentator has pointed this out well by saying: “Although the faithful, especially as compared with the great nations of the world are few in number, and as regards their own power, are like a small flock of defenseless sheep, they should nevertheless have no fear, for their heavenly Father, because it is his good pleasure, has given the kingdom to those who seek it. In principle they already possess it and share in its blessing, but at the end of the age, they will receive its fullness.”
In continuity with the Old Testament, the flock is the people belonging to God: there is one flock and one Shepherd-Ruler who appoints undershepherds to “feed his lambs” (John 10:16; 21:15). The flock is God’s eschatological people, purchased with the life of the Shepherd of the sheep, united in Him to receive the promise of the kingdom. It may be small, but belonging to God, it has a great future. So, it is not size that counts, but God’s good pleasure and His promise, which in covenantal terms is the reward given to faithfulness. Reflection on these perspectives is a timely antidote to the modern obsession with size and the erroneous idea that bigger is always better.
Likewise, it is striking how many of the parables reflect on situations that deal with small numbers of people, care for individuals, growth, and final fulfillment. In a sense, and quite naturally so, they were tailor-made for a small group that was destined to grow spiritually in a nearly imperceptible way. Think of the mustard seed, the wheat and the tares, the leaven, the net and the fishes, the lost sheep, the lost coin, the workers of the final hour and the sower’s seed. Other parables place individuals from certain despised groups in a good light, such as the publican and the Pharisee, the good Samaritan, the rich man and Lazarus, the unjust judge, etc.