The Cry of Jesus Abandoned on the Cross (Mt. 27:46):
Toward a Theology of Mission
on the Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor
By Andrew G.Recepcion
After the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, many commentators have discussed quite extensively the vision of an integral ecology. In fact, going through articles and write-ups, one can have the impression that nothing more could be discussed or written about integral ecology for much of the themes have been extensively treated in many publications.
The issue on the environment particularly on caring for the earth and its consequences to humanity today and to the future human generations has been sustaining opposing poles of arguments and discourses in the on-going ecological debate. On many occasions, the ecological debate all over the world are fought on ideological platforms and action plans that have nothing to do with faith in Jesus Christ. The transforming power of Jesus Christ through the Gospel has never been adequately given space to influence not only ecological awareness but also ecological conscience thus bring about a genuine ecological revolution from within and not simply from a superficial “fashionable” advocacies. The crux of the matter is a Christian’s ecological conversion as a fundamental orientation of Christian identity and mission in the context of the earth’s and the poor’s cry for eco-justice.
We can explore profoundly in this presentation the significance of the paschal mystery especially in the setting of the passion narrative, the missiological interpretation of the relationship between the cry of Jesus on the cross and the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. Allow me just to point out in broad strokes the key elements of mission and the ecological implications of the cry.
The Cry of Jesus Abandoned in the Cross: A Christological Foundation of Mission for Integral Ecology
For many Christians, Jesus Christ suffered most at the garden of Gethsemane. Others locate the suffering of Jesus from the horizon of the total paschal mystery thus a particular attention is given to the question: “When did Jesus suffer most?”
It is from the perspective of the total paschal mystery of Christ that we can affirm that Jesus suffered most not only when he was crucified on the cross but at that very moment when he cried: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mt. 27:46/Psalm 22)4 The cry of abandonment was the moment of Christ’s deepest suffering when he felt in his human nature the separation of sinful humanity and of creation from God. It was not, however, a cry of anger, hopelessness, discouragement and despair but instead it was a cry of immense hope in and surrender to God’s love. It was in that cry of Jesus that he became the “bridge” between God and humanity, between God and all of creation, between humanity and all of creation thus restoring creation and humanity to their original Trinitarian design, and in the language of the youth today, one may well speak of “restoring to original settings”, to “default settings” that only Jesus Christ, our savior, could carry out on the cross through his paschal mystery.
Some commentators on the cry of Jesus, that is, on his abandonment on the cross, indicate the profound and intimate relationship between Jesus Christ and his Father, his Abba, as the very essence and foundation of Jesus Christ’s work of salvation–the wellspring of his mission.
When Jesus experienced in his humanity the separation between God and human beings and creation, it was a tremendous, unfathomable, and unexplainable mystery that can only be understood in the language of Trinitarian love. In other words, the cry of Jesus on the cross reveals to all human beings and the community of creation that the fundamental DNA of all creation and of humanity is harmony of relationships rooted in unity between God and humanity, between God, humanity, and creation. The break down of relationship and the absence of unity due to selfishness continues, from the optic of faith, the cry of Jesus on the cross that calls for an existential response, not by occasional individual action of solidarity with the poor and a superficial initiative to attenuate the destruction of the earth but by a collective chorus of unity in the diversity of creation.
Christian mission is not about going out to solve all the separation, problems and brokenness that we, Christians, find in the world. From the standpoint of Jesus’ abandonment of the cross, however, mission is being a bridge of love, unity and harmonious relationship in our world. Crucial to mission today in the context of ecological destruction is to recognize in any form of the exploitation of the poor and of the earth’s creatures the face of Jesus crucified and abandoned calling out for liberation, justice and wholeness.
The response of Christian mission to the cry of Jesus in the cry of the poor and in the cry of the earth’s creatures echoes Samuel’s attentive, vigilant and audacious answer (1 Sam 3:4): “Here, we are” ready to embrace you, Jesus crucified and abandoned in all situations of the poor and of earth’s creatures that echo your cry on the cross.
The Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor: The Ecological Context of the Cry of Jesus Today
Pope Francis has affirmed in Laudato Si’ that the ecological crisis we are facing in the world today does not consist of two crises but only of a single crisis that affects both the earth and the poor. In fact, we find in Laudato Si’ a clear description of the roots of this crisis: “the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, and of how individuals relate to themselves” (141). “We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (139). Furthermore, Pope Francis’ vision of integral ecology points out more than before that we need to affirm our interdependence and interconnectedness with the community of creation “which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings” (15). In fact, “nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live” (139).
The cry of the poor and the cry of the earth constitute a single yet complex ecological crisis because we live in one common home. Mission considers integral ecology as a context for understanding the different pathways of mission today. Ecological crisis is mission in crisis. In what way do the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth’s creatures impact on the meaning and practice of mission? Allow me to highlight a few shifts in missiological thinking.
- In the past mission was associated with colonization of territories, exploitation of peoples and resources, and subjugation of the “godless or damned” in the name of Christ. Today, mission speaks of a radical Gospel-based transformation, stewardship, and full realization of human dignity. Today it is more adequate to speak of mission in the language of being as subjects and not as objects of missionary activities. When Jesus Christ made his cry on the cross, he showed us that mission is about the primacy of being before doing; the primacy of fidelity to God’s will before success; and the power of selfless love before the power of domination, human force, and strategy.
- In the past the images of the tower, wall and fence as architectural metaphors do indicate a defensive stance that is always alert to any possible invasion with a constant sense of alarm and danger. Our contemporary global world more than a determined geographical territory with fixed boundaries is about human space which entails “an open structure, an agora, a park or piazza, and in economic sense a marketplace.”5 Mission today means “creating new structures that facilitate global interaction, opening doors”,6 reaching out to the peripheries, especially the least, the last and the lost7 , investing in community and not in buildings, and in facilitating life-nourishing relationships8 among creatures that is rooted in the Gospel’s way of life.
- In the past mission has been identified with the boundaries of nation-states and mission territories where missionaries have been sent to carry out specific mission works according to different circumstances or situations. The permanent validity of territorial boundaries remains. But it is necessary to indicate that the global world has a new map where boundaries are re-interpreted as human frontiers that need the saving mission of Christ. Mission today encompasses all of humanity and creation that resemble the face of Jesus Christ crucified and abandoned. Mission can either be understood as ad altera9 or inter gentes10 for mission takes seriously not only peoples in distant lands of Asia and Africa but also people who live in the jungles of skyscrapers in urban metropolises that are multi-cultural, multi-polar, pragmatic, materialistic, and even atheistic. Mission is ad altera because it considers the rest of creation as partners in the search for the fullness of life in Jesus Christ (cf. John 10:10) who continues to cry in the groaning of creation, in the midst of the destruction of the earth as our common home and the lamentation of the poor. Mission today enters different human frontiers of the global world as the new Areopagus of mission.
Toward a Theology of Mission in the Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor and
its Implications to Integral Ecology
The cry of the earth’s creatures and the cry of the poor are two foundational elements of Christ’s missionary mandate. In other words, a theology of mission today cannot simply be reduced to the nuances of ad gentes which continues to be necessary in other contexts. The mission of the Trinity is at the heart of our missioning. In the light of the Trinitarian relationship as the setting of the cry of abandonment of Jesus on the cross, in the drama of the paschal mystery, we can highlight in a rather cursory way the elements of a theology of mission in the context of the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor and we shall attempt to propose some implications to integral ecology with a special focus on the ecology of daily life, that is, on a missionary spirituality as “attentive listening” to the many voices of the cry of the earth’s creatures and of the poor.
Mission is seeing the new creation and redeemed humanity in harmony through the eyes of Jesus crucified and abandoned.
When Jesus cried out on the cross, it was a movement from lamentation to praise. In other words, Jesus Christ’s cry was an affirmation that reality is upside down when seen from the pupil of the eyes of Jesus crying on the cross. What seemed from the outside as complaint and utter desolation, turned out to be a powerful Word of new creation renewing all creatures and humanity from within. Jesus crucified and abandoned is the creative Word per excellence of the new creation. Thus, when seen from the cry of Jesus on the cross, mission is bringing about a new creation, a new humanity in the image of the Trinity.
Mission is going beyond the wound of disharmony, disease, destruction, and division through the absolute and total surrender of Jesus crucified and abandoned.
The struggle for human domination and control of the earth and the poor has created many wounds that continue to reflect the cry of Jesus for reconciliation, harmony and unity. Only when humans learn to see creation not as a resource to be used and abused but as a gift that eco-justice and harmony can be realized; only when the poor do not become faceless numbers that a life-nourishing relationship of solidarity can begin. When the earth is abused and exploited, the poor become even poorer. When the poor are exploited to serve the greed of a powerful few, the earth cries with the poor for it feels that everyone has the right to receive the gift of the earth. Thus, when seen from the cry of Jesus on the cross, mission heals the wounds of the earth and the poor; mission restores the balance of creation and humanity.
Mission is reaching out to the least, the last and the lost through selfless and humble service and through a witness of powerlessness.
The world’s poor have become more numerous and only a few control the wealth of the earth. The poor can be the least that barely have enough food to survive daily. The poor can be the last that have no voice to fight for their rights as human beings. The poor can be the last that can hardly improve their situation because of violence, persecution, gender and social marginalization and so on. Thus, when seen from the cry of Jesus on the cross mission is reaching out to those who are the human and existential margins of our communities. Mission is knowing the name of a poor person and making him or her feel that we belong to God’s family.
We may never totally respond always to the cry of Jesus crucified and abandoned in the ongoing cry of the earth and cry of the poor. What counts is to start with what we can do in the sphere of our influence and not to remain indifferent to the voices that challenge us to get out of our comfort zones in order to cry with Jesus on the cross. The cry of Jesus, however, is not sentimentalism but a powerful Word that renews and builds up, that reconciles and heals, that restores and uplifts, that transforms and nourishes, that empowers humanity and creation to walk together toward the fullness of life in Jesus Christ. The cry of Jesus crucified and abandoned gives us a new missionary spirituality in which
God sees the world through the
pupil of the wound of the abandonment,
which also unfold for us a totally
different vision of things. It is a vision that
goes to the root of the issues and
sheds light on how to read and deal with
challenges, creating a new style, a
new mentality, a new way of acting.
Because the Spirit of God was
poured out on humankind from the wound
of Jesus Forsaken, it is from him,
that an innovative intelligence can spring
forth, able to “flood” with light the
various fields of culture, from politics to
psychology, from philosophy to
sociology, and renew them from within.11
4 This verse from Matthew quotes Psalm 22
5 Ferrara, 6.
7 See Antonio Spadaro, “Svegliate il mondo!”, Colloqui di Papa Francesco con i Superiori Generali, in La Civilta’ Cattolica 165/1 (2014); 5-6.
8 Cf. Luigino Bruni, The Wound and the Blessing: Economy relationships and happiness (Manila: NEw City Press, 2013), 1-115. Also see Fabio Ciardi, OMI on “Reciprocity, The Hallmark of Christianity” in Charisms in Unity 23/1 (January-March 2015): 3-6.
9 Schreiter, 6.
10 Alfred Maravilla, “Missio Inter Gentes: Asia’s Gift to the Universal Church,” in Excelling in Mission (Shillong, India: Don Bosco Press, 2014), 51-2
11 Hubertus Blaumeiser, ed., in Chiara Lubich, Jesus Forsaken (Manila, Philippines: New City Press, 2016), 128.