Jojo M. Fung, S.J.
part from the models of mission mentioned by David J. Bosch, I would like to examine a few more models. They are: (a) mission as countercultural, (b) mission as triple dialogue, (c) mission as contemplative silence, and (d) mission as reverse mission.
(a) Mission as Countercultural
To be countercultural is to swim against the tide in order to make a prophetic difference in a given society and culture. In a world invaded by globalized neo-liberal capitalism where people buy and accumulate goods as a measure of well-being (having more in order to be more), to be countercultural is to live simply in order to be effective in the services of others, especially those who are left out by the processes of market globalization.
In Hebrew Scriptures, in a nation plagued by injustices, the call of the prophets to practice and love is a call to be countercultural. The prophets Isaiah and Hosea issue such challenges to the Israelites to uphold a countercultural lifestyle: "Cease to do evil, learn to do good-seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow" (Is 1:16-17), "I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings" (Hos 6:6). Only by being countercultural can the Israelites express their fidelity to God.
The teaching of Jesus on mutual forgiveness in the New Testament is definitely countercultural. It sharply contrasts and opposes the prevalent culture of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" (Mt 5:39). Instead Jesus suggests "to turn the other cheek" when one is struck. He further recommends, "love your enemies and pray for those, who persecute you" (Mt 5:44). The reason for such countercultural behavior is rooted in the understanding of a magnanimous God "who makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteousness and on the unrighteous" (Mt 5:45).
Jesus’ constant association with sinners and tax collectors (Mt 9:10-13, Mk 2:15-17, Lk 15:1-10), in the meal/table fellowship was a countercultural action which shattered the many oppressive boundaries that separated the ‘clean’ from the ‘unclean.’ Even more radical was Jesus’ highly countercultural and controversial declarations: "In truth I tell you, tax collectors and prostitutes are making their way into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you, showing the way of uprightness, but you did not believe him, and yet the tax collectors and prostitutes did" (Mt 21:31). And he praised the sacrifice and generosity of the poor widow over and above the surplus donation of the wealthy: "I tell you truly, this poor widow has put in more than any of them; for these have all put in money they could spare, but she in her poverty has put in all she had to live on" (Lk 21:1-4).
In a Jewish culture which suppresses the dignity and rights of women (not heard nor seen), Jesus formed a countercultural community which allowed women to gain their rightful places and voices. He has allowed women to be his disciples: "Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources" (Lk 8:2-3). He forgave women their sins (even when caught in adultery Jn 8:11) and allowed a woman who was a sinner to wipe his feet with her hair (Lk 7:37-49).
In relation to the question of faith and salvation, Jesus broke out of the insular mentality of the Jews. His countercultural pronouncements to the Roman Centurion and the Syro-Phoenician woman must have shocked the Jews. To the former, he said: "In truth I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found faith as great as this ... Go back, then: let this be done for you, as your faith demands" (Mt 8:13). Then to the latter, he said, "For saying this you may go home happy; the devil has gone out of your daughter" (Mk 7:29).
(b) Mission As Triple Dialogue
In a world that is becoming increasing plural in terms of religions and cultures, and in which the marginalized and oppressed are increasing in numbers, mission has to be seen as a triple dialogue: with the poor, the different cultures and religions. Dialogue with the poor occurs when we are inserted in their midst. Only when we experience the injustices they suffer that we become committed to promote justice together with them.
Intercultural dialogue with people of diverse cultures will enable the Church to enrich and express the Christian faith. The dialogue with indigenous cultures will enable the church to appreciate creation/environment/nature as intimately connected to humankind, community life and the sharing of goods and services.
Dialogue with other world religions enables us to realize that the mystery of God is beyond us, though it is uniquely revealed as Abba in the person of Jesus Christ. We realize that this God is never the monopoly of any one world religion and thus God can act in ways unknown to us Christians. Yet we acknowledge fully that this God is the one who converts all believers of the world religions to God. It is God who offers the gift of faith to them in the person of Jesus and invites them to Christian baptism.
Yet in this dialogue with the world religions, we have to proclaim that Jesus is the message and the agent of the message. In the words of Chito Tagle. "He is the message to be proclaimed; He is the missioner that must do the work... If Jesus is not the message, if Jesus is not both the message and the missioner for us, then we might be betraying His being the Savior. For Him to be the Only Savior means He is not the message but also the one who will do His mission" (cited in Kroeger 1999: 94).
(c) Mission As Contemplative Silence
The Church has a rich tradition of contemplative silence in the cloistered monasteries. What has not been fully explored and reflected upon is mission as contemplative silence for ministers and Christians in the world. Our mission is being-in-action and not one of being-in-contemplative silence. Indeed attempts such as that of the ashrams and Christian Zen centers are laudable efforts in developing the inner silence in the deepest recesses of the human heart.
John Paul II underlines this mission of the Church in Asia. He believes that "mission is contemplative action and active contemplation In Asia, home to the great religions where individuals and entire peoples are thirsting for the divine, the Church is called to be a praying Church, deeply spiritual even as it engages in immediate human and social concern" (no.23, cited in Kroeger 1999: 68). In many countries, where explicit celebration of the Christian faith is forbidden due to a dire lack of religious tolerance, "the Church realizes that the silent witness of life still remains the only way of proclaiming God’s Kingdom" (cited in Kroeger 1999: 70).
(d) A Reverse mission
When we allow ourselves to be evangelized by the indigenous peoples, migrant workers, persons living with HIV/AIDS, single parents, squatters, farmers, fishing folks, drug addicts, a reverse mission occurs. God can use all these persons to shape and form us in the likeness of God. In other words, we have much to receive from those we are missioned to work with. A genuine interaction will allow them to help us to unlearn our biases about them. Only when a vessel is empty, can it be filled with water. Only when we are emptied of our self-importance are we able to receive the richness in their cultures and be open to their criticism. It is when we are enriched that we can enrich them in return. When enriched, we are truly in a better position to respond to their needs for the basic necessities of life, and, later on, for justice, peace and human rights.
Jesus too had to learn and unlearn himself in his interaction with the Gentiles and the Jews. In the account of a Gentile woman begging him to cast the demon out of her daughter, Jesus’ remark smacks of an age-old Jewish bias against the Gentiles. Not only are the Gentiles looked down upon by the Jews but also they believed that Gentiles are not saved by God. Hence, Jesus replied, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it the dogs" (Mk 7:27). But the Syrophoenician woman’s rebuttal shattered the boundary drawn between the Jews and the Gentiles: "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs" (v.28). She basically argued that all persons are saved by God as both Jews and Gentiles ate of the food from the table of God. Jesus corrected himself and acted upon her request, "For saying that, you may go - the demon has left your daughter" (v.30).
So today, there is much to unlearn and learn if we care to allow God to do the marvelous things for us through others, be it women, youth, children, or the marginalized and oppressed indigenous peoples.
The contexts which we are in today call for other considerations about mission. The four aspects considered are by no means exhaustive of the complex reality of mission. However, it must be noted that when mission involves triple dialogue, contemplative silence, and reverse mission, the Church will be ultimately transformed into countercultural communities of believers which act as salt of the earth and light of the world.
Kroeger, James H.
1999 Asia-Church in Mission. Manila: Claretian Publications.