2. God's Story: The Missio Dei (cont.)
Movement 3. Out of Exile: the Mission of the Son (commissioned by the Father, empowered by the Spirit)
But the Word, through which all things were made, is himself made flesh in the person of Jesus, and that changes everything. Into a world where darkness and death seem be winning a continual victory the light is born in order to bring life to all. This is the climactic movement of the story: the movement out of exile, accomplished by Jesus, the Son of God, Israel’s Messiah, the new prototype of humanity.
The story of Jesus reveals how God is able to remain faithful to all aspects of his covenant –with creation and humanity, with Abraham and Sarah – while also working through his covenant partners. Jesus fulfills both the vocation of Israel, and the vocation of Adam and Eve. He brings blessings to all people (as Israel should have done) and he reveals the true nature of humanity (as Adam and Eve should have done). This is why Jesus so often refers to himself as the “Son of Man.” The “Son of Man” was a title used in Jewish apocalyptic literature (like Daniel 7) to refer to the people of God, who were God’s true humanity, over against the pagan nations who are represented as ferocious beasts because they have lost track of their true humanity identity. This is also why, Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener when Jesus first appears to here in the garden by the empty tomb. Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener because he now appears as the one who truly fulfills the mandate of Adam and Eve – to care for the garden of creation. Thus, as Moltmann suggests, the eternal Son became human, not just to deal with sin, but to fulfill creation. Jesus, therefore, fulfills both the role of God’s faithful covenant partner, and the role of God being faithful to his covenant! Jesus is both the Son of Man and the Son of God. As Israel’s Messiah, as the faithful representative of Israel, and as the new and true prototype of humanity, Jesus is the true imago Dei. The Father is revealed in the Son, and, once again, we know God as Immanuel – God-With-Us.
Because he is bringing exile to an end, Jesus comes proclaiming the forgiveness of sin, healing the sick, and celebrating with even the most socially despised people – the tax-collectors and the prostitutes (those who were traitors to the cause of freedom and justice, and those who were morally degenerate). Exile, the consequence of sin, was being brought to an end as sin was being forgiven, and, concomitantly, the fracturing of humanity was being healed as the unclean and marginalized were restored to full fellowship with others. God was returning to be with his people and – wonder of wonders – his presence did not bring disastrous floods or damning judgments. His presence brought reconciliation, light, and life.
In Jesus we have the revelation of God with us, not bringing a judgment of hard and fast justice that destroys creation, but bringing a judgment of grace that makes all things new. This is so because Jesus comes, in humility, to serve and to suffer. Building on the hints of divine humiliation found in the movement of creation and developed in the movement of exile, the Son also travels a road of humiliation. The humiliation of God comes to a climax in the life, crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus. Jesus overcomes exile by journeying to the depths of exile with those who are trapped in exile. He brings God to the godforsaken by becoming one of the godforsaken. Jesus so closely identifies himself with those who are in exile, that he experiences ultimate, hopeless, entire alienation from God. Indeed, the “torment in the torments” of Jesus’ death on the cross was his abandonment by God.
Yet, in his humiliation and his humility, Jesus goes silently as a lamb to the slaughter. Thus, the Jewish leaders, who should be leading Israel as a light to the world, condemn and hand over the one who is the true light of the world because he is thought to be a blasphemer; the pagan rules, who actually owe all their authority to God, crucify the one who is the true Lord of the world because he is thought to be a rebel; but most painfully of all, the Father, who has loved the Son more than all others and who has communed in unheard of intimacy with the Son, abandons him so that he can be handed over and killed.
Thus, exile climaxes in the exile of Jesus on the cross, and in the grave. As von Balthasar argues, the death of Jesus, and his descent into hell, complete his solidarity with all those who suffered the hell of death and godforsakenness. Yet it is this “solidarity until the end” that becomes that which brings exile to its shocking conclusion. Those who have been “doomed” by God, even those who have wanted to exist in this state, now discover God with them even in the midst of this experience. Moltmann sums it up well:
through his forsakenness Jesus brought God to the Godforsaken. The Father did not spare his own Son but ‘gave him up for us all’ (Rom 8.31ff), in order through him to be the Father of all the forsaken, the God of the godless and the refuge of those without hope.
Jesus refused to cease suffering, he bore sin and death, and by carrying it, he carried it away. It is the mission of the Son to move into exile. The missio of the Son is to be become godforsaken with the godforsaken and thus put an end to exile and godforsakenness.
This, too, is a subversive action, and the theme of the subversion of all the other powers that was already present in the creation and exile movements surfaces once again. Not only does Jesus overcome sin and the fracturing of the world, he also overcomes socio-political structures of sin and death. Indeed, the whole story of Jesus (and of God) is a gospel story, a story of subversive good news. Of course, in order to understand why good news is also subversive one must understand how the term gospel fits into the local context of Second Temple Judaism and the broader context of the Roman Empire in the first-century. The word “gospel” had two basic meanings then: to the Jew it meant the good news of Israel’s return from exile and the return of God to Zion; to the Greek it meant the good news of the victory, birth, or accession of an emperor. In the Second Testament the term “gospel” incorporates both of these meanings. Therefore, the gospel is not simply a description of how people get saved, it is the narrative proclamation that, stated most compactly, proclaims that “Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is Lord” and that the God of Israel is the one true God over against all false gods and their followers.
The Son is able to become the new prototype of humanity because he fully suffers the consequences incurred by the actions of humanity’s old prototype. As James Dunn writes: “Jesus first shared in the actual destiny of the first Adam (death) before he achieved the intended goal for Adam (dominion over all things).” This is what is confirmed in the resurrection of Jesus. In the resurrection, God vindicates Jesus, in all of his humility, helplessness, and forsakenness. Jesus is revealed as the one true Lord of the cosmos. Not only in his resurrection body (which still bears the wounds of the cross), but also (and perhaps especially) in his broken, bleeding, and dying crucified body, Jesus is the true imago Dei and there is, therefore, a new covenant that takes place in and through Jesus.
Thus, by fulfilling his mission to bring about the end of exile (in all of its dimensions), the Son opens the door for the new creation of all things. The Son reveals the old age of godforsakenness, darkness and death is passing away, and the new age of intimacy with God, of light and of life, has already begun. The eschaton has begun. The exile of Israel is over, the exile of humanity is over, the exile of creation is over, and the exile of God is over! God has returned, God is once again God with us, and he is now in the process of making all things new and of becoming all in all.
Therefore, the mission of the Son is to fulfill the mission of Israel, embodying cruciform obedience, in order to bring light and life to the world. Furthermore, the mission of the Son is to fulfill the original Edenic mission of humanity, to rule over creation as the Father rules, and thereby reveal the Father to the world. Indeed, by fulfilling the mission of Israel and of humanity, the Son begins to fulfill the missio Dei which moves from creation to new creation, from goodness to greater goodness, from life to resurrection life. Of course, in order to properly fulfill all three of these aspects of his mission, the Son also becomes the Godforsaken One and is, therefore, vindicated as the Resurrected Lord. Finally, the mission of the Son is to prepare the way for the Spirit. The Son inaugurates the new age so that the eschatological Spirit can be poured out. Therefore, speaking in trinitarian terms, we can conclude that the Son, is both commissioned by the Father and the definitive revelation of the Father; and the Son is both empowered by the Spirit and prepares the way for the Spirit.
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Explorations in Theology: IV, and Mysterium Paschale.
Daniel M. Bell Jr., Liberation Theology After the End of History: the refusal to cease suffering.
James D. G. Dunn, The Theology of Paul the Apostle.
Jurgen Moltmann, The Church in the Power of the Spirit, God in Creation, The Trinity and the Kingdom, and The Crucified God.
N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, The Resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, The New Testament and the People of God, and Romans.
2. God's Story: The Missio Dei (cont.)