At the Gate: The Power of a Few”

Sitting at the gate, I see the importance of a few ordinary people engaging in the advance of the common good.

As you know, the Oboedire community begins a group reading of Walter Brueggemann’s book, ‘Journey to the Common Good” (Revised Edition) on February 1st. A recent article by him shows why it is so timely to make this journey. [1] The article is a prelude to the commencement of our reading experience.

Through the reading of Scripture and other literature, Brueggemann has discerned this key principle for living as God intends today: “Faithfulness as the practice of risk and danger is the story of a few good women and men.” [1]

In the article, he draws this insight from Robert Crichton’s novel ‘The Secret of Santa Vittori’ and the stories of Caleb and Joshua in the Old Testament, the two leaders who personifed faithful leadership after Moses. From this reading, Brueggemann observes these things…

“(1) A few brave, good persons can make a decisive difference and alter history.

(2) The bravery of a few good persons is a magnetic force that will draw others to it, because there are many well-intentioned people who are not brave, but who can follow if led.

(3) The brave work of the few is never the work of an isolated individual, even if done alone.”

These three dynamics, Brueggemann notes, are needed in our day….

“In our society we are at a critical historical juncture that requires a few good women and men. The wealth gap between rich and poor grows, the rendition of vulnerable persons as commodities places the human community in deep jeopardy, and the spoil of the environment jeopardizes the health of creation. The wealthy, who benefit from and enjoy the wealth gap and the managers and beneficiaries of privatized prosperity, the powerful who exploit the poor, and those who produce the poison of our planet count on the rest of us to be compliant, even if in dissent. The spell of such fearful compliance can be and will be broken only by the few good women and men who dare to march to a different drummer, work from a different script, and act in ways congruent with their conviction of a world held in the good hands of the creator.”

Brueggemann’s conviction is held by others. In the Wesleyan tradition, I see it in John Wesley’s conviction, “Give me one hundred people who fear nothing but God and hate nothing but sin, and I can change the world.”

In the mid-twentieth century, Martin Luther King Jr. said the same, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” [2]

And do we not see the same “power of the few” in Jesus’ apostolic fellowship and discipleship followership, a world-changing band of raggamuffins barely larger than a hundred when Jesus died. The expansion of Christianity similarly occurred through a handful of people going here and there in Jesus’ name.

And that brings us back to the beginning of this piece–faithfulness is an act of the few which is risky, dangerous, and incurs opposition. The few do not seek pushback, but they inevitably experience it when the values of God’s reign collide with those of the principalities and powers.

Brueggemann’s reminder above is our marching order, “In our society we are at a critical historical juncture that requires a few good women and men.”

[1] Walter Brueggemann, “Start Me with Two!” Church Anew, 1/25/23.
[2] ‘Daily Good’ e-letter, 1/26/23.

About Steve Harper

Dr. Steve Harper is retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 45 books. He is also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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