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Jesus in Liberation Theology

May 25, 2013

Christology = theories about who Jesus was, eg. God incarnate (made flesh)

Early church saw him as Lord – like emperor

Medieval monks saw him as a monk

Poor Clares saw him as helper of the poor

Thomas Aquinas saw him as one with super knowledge


Spanish and Portuguese conquerors saw him as celestial monarch to whom peasants must submit

Above a church door in Inca capital Cuzco: ‘Come unto Mary all ye that labour and heavy laden and she will give you rest.’

In bible, it tells people to come to Jesus; Spanish Jesus too harsh for that so Mary took the kind role

The Spanish conception of Christ is ‘regarded as a purely supernatural being, whose humanity being only (an appearance) has little ethical bearing upon ours. (He) died as a victim of human hate….the conception of this is (rather like the blood- letting in a bull fight) the Spaniard sees and feels death in all its dread reality in the fate of the victim. The total sensation intensifies his sense of the reality and terribleness of death, it increases his passion for life.’  (J. A. MacKay)

The Spanish Christ is usually depicted in the arms of his mother – as a baby at the start of his life or as a corpse at the end.

Spanish missionaries portrayed him as tragic victim, bruised, ashen, bloodless, ‘blood-streaked images, twisted Christ’s that struggle with death and recumbent Christ’s that have succumbed to it.’ (J. A. MacKay)  The period between his birth and death (ie. when he taught and what he taught about) is passed over

In Holy Week people drag heavy crosses through the street and pull floats with masochistic scenes eg. whipping.

The cross has become a kind of mystical repetition of the poor people of Brazil’s own real experience.

Bartolome de Las Casas turned the image round and saw Jesus in suffering Indians – one scourged, afflicted, crucified

In C20, privatized religion – Jesus seen as spiritual teacher in the West.

Johann Baptist Metz (1928-) argued that his message was about God’s kingdom so any image of Jesus must be accompanied by hope for the coming of that kingdom which involves, liberty, peace, justice and reconciliation.  So Christians should be concerned with political events as well as personal devotion.

HC DOM HELDA CAMARA of Brazil argued that ‘in a world where two-thirds of the people are in a state of underdevelopment and hunger, how can we squander huge sums on the construction of temples of stone, forgetting the living Christ who is present in the person of the poor?  And when shall we come to understand that in too sumptuous churches the poor have not had the courage to enter and to feel at home? But Christ is there anyway, grovelling in the misery and hunger, living in ramshackle huts, without medical attention, without work, and without a future.’

‘The signs of the suffering Christ (come through) in the faces which are marked by the suffering of an oppressed people.’ (Puebla)

Bible message centres on liberation/salvation

Psalm 68 God is ‘father of widows, defender of widows’

Matthew 25 – when we give food to hungry &c. we minister to Jesus

Jesus addressed his message to poor, oppressed, hungry, outcast, sick

So God, in Jesus favours ‘dregs of the world’

For Jesus, ultimate purpose not himself nor the church but God’s kingdom

His message threatened establishment so the cross was the result

Christianity has spiritualized is death – for forgiveness of personal sins.

Must remember he died as a political subversive

Paid full price for standing with oppressed

Cannot gain access to him by theory

Only by following him, living as he did, accepting the suffering which comes from standing up for the poor and the martyrdom which may follow a commitment to love, freedom and justice.

Avoid docetism – the idea that God appeared as Jesus but was not really human.

Take seriously that he was a man.

Not the beliefs about Jesus that matter but who he really was in history.

He led his life on periphery of Roman Empire in circumstances very like current Latin America.

Took option for poor in time of extreme exploitation and dependence.

Traditional christology talks of him dying FOR the sins of men.

Rather, he died BECAUSE OF the sins of the men who put him there.


Lived with 6 Jesuit priests in El Salvador for 6 years

Army murdered them with cook and her daughter in November 1989 – he was away at time of attack

More than 70,000 assassinations have taken place there in ten years – mostly peasants associated with political parties

emphasizes the historical Jesus in his solidarity with the pain and suffering of his people.

The only way to know Jesus is to follow him by identifying with the poor, as he did and try try to establish his kingdom on earth

‘Latin America is not so much interested in clarifying people’s understanding of such traditional problems as transubstantiation, the hydrostatic union in Christ and the relationship between the divine and human knowledge of Christ..theological clarification of that sort does not seem to have any direct repercussions for the social sphere (instead we should highlight) practical ways of understanding …the socio-political activity of Jesus and the obligation to follow in his footsteps…The aim of studying Jesus’s intention is to pave the way for effective collaboration with him.’

The risen Jesus is with the poor of Latin America.

In John chapter 10 he said he would fetch ‘other sheep’ into his fold – these are the people of Latin America

Jesus’s centre lay outside himself.

Not abstract notion of ‘God’

Rather the kingdom of God

Like OT prophets proclaiming justice.

Isaiah 65;17-24 has vision of days when people settle, farm, have children without fearing for their lives

Amos 2;6-7 people won’t be sold into slavery

Amos 3;10 rich won’t enjoy fruit of oppression

Amos 5;11-12 God hates those who accept bribes and oppress poor

Amos 6; 3-4 downfall of those who live in luxury

Isaiah 5;8 condemns those who increase their property at expense of poor

Isaiah 10;1-2 condemns those who pass unjust laws

Matthew 11;5 Jesus says kingdom at hand

Mark 2;6, Matthew 11;19, 21;32 first in kingdom are prostitutes, sinners &c.

Matthew 11;6 this kingdom produces scandal

Mark 13;32 kingdom has not yet fully come

Mark 1;15 he saw himself in line of prophets.

He does not just talk and raise hopes

He heals, exorcises

He encourages solidarity amongst poor and denounces those who attack them:

Luke 6;24 woe to rich

Luke 12;16 threatens rich with ultimate failure

Luke 12;31 condemns them for leaving solutions to economic problems to God

Matthew 19;31 rich told to give wealth away

Luke 11;52 condemns religious leaders for leaving poor in ignorance

Mark 12;40 condemns religious leaders for preying on widows

Matthew 20;25 condemns political rulers for governing with an absolute power which oppresses masses

Luke 10;31-36 judges a Samaritan for doing something not just saying platitudes

By Mark 8/Matthew 13, he had a crisis and had to break with his former notion of ‘God’ and his ideas of what the kingdom entailed and went to an unknown future over which he had no control.

All this starts with the historical Jesus – who he really was and what he said and did, not with what church dogma taught about his status.

‘The most historical thing about the historical Jesus is his praxis, in  other words, his activity to work actively on the surrounding reality and to transform it

the particular direction which he sought, in the direction of the kingdom of God…For us, therefore, the history of the historical Jesus is in the first place an invitation (and a demand) to follow his praxis: in the language of Jesus, to follow him on a mission.’

Jesus shows us filiation = how to also be sons/daughters of God

Colossians 1;24 talks of ‘making up the sufferings of Christ’ and people of El Salvador doing that.

Quotes Archbishop Romero on communion: ‘It is most opportune to pay homage to the Body and Blood of the Son of man while there are so many outrages to his body and blood among us. I should like to join this homage of our faith to the presence of the Body and Blood of Christ, which we have shed, with all the blood shed, and the corpses piled up, here in our own land and throughout the world.’

There is a mystical community (theologians call the Church that) of the crucified people of all periods.

Just as early church understood Christ in the CONTEXT of their day (used Roman imperial language like Lord so we need to understand him today in OUR



The liberator in history is not Napoleon but the poor person

Daniel 7;13 sees the ‘son of man’ as representative of a people who have been defeated (v. 21)

Isaiah 49;7 sees God’s servant as symbol of people ‘despised, whom the nations abhor the slave of rulers’

John 1;46 Jesus was despised as coming from the wrong place


Church came with the conquistadores and has tended to side with the rulers in the past

Scepticism about Jesus and church

Jesus Christ Liberator pub. 1972

Christology not about saying the right words because those who said them were into colonization and domination.

Boff did Christology in:

– starting with human nature not the church.  Church called to raise human nature to full potential

– Utopia comes before factual

kingdom is anticipated in history and Jesus came to complete it in his person

– critical before dogmatic

need to discern liberation in the message

– social before personal

especially secular and liberating dimensions of message

– Living the gospel (orthopraxis) more important than believing correct words about it (orthodoxy)

– he said ‘follow me’ more than ‘believe in me’

Jesus announces a new order as ‘the revolution and the total, global and structural transfiguration of the reality of our world.’

‘Although this kingdom is not this-worldly in origin (it has its origin in God_, it is present in our midst, manifesting itself in the process of liberation.’


Council of Chalcedon said God dwelt in man – Jesus

So salvation dwells in historical liberations

Just as grace comes in  material sacraments, so salvation comes through historical liberations

Just as one who loves neighbour loved God, so one who is liberated encounters salvation

Just as humans are body and souls, so salvation is also liberation


The Spanish believed in the cross; the natives carried the cross

Indiginization of Jesus into an oppressed person in Latin America – see Colombian writing by Toro

The Christ who suffers is like the peasants who suffer.

Mary with a sword through her heart is a symbol of the oppression of women.

We must pay attention to the Jesus of history – not the Christ of faith at his birth, death and resurrection but what he said and did when he was preaching.


Census AD 6 provoked Jewish resistance movement – the Zealots, led to violent uprising, the Fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and Massada.

Jesus 30 when starts preaching.

Luke 2 old folk welcome young generation as their future – they were ‘looking for the liberation of Israel’.

Sermon on the Mount (Matthew) is on a plain in Luke – but simply ‘the hills’ – where Mattathias started struggle.

Jesus’s politics preach love enemy, blessed are peacemakers.

Disarms the campaign and internationalises it.

First sermon says liberty to captives, good news for poor.

Preaches in a boat – to get away.

Peace not of this world for then would my servants fight.

Put away the sword.

Crowd choose insurrectionist Barabbas.

Seek first Kingdom of God and his justice.

John Baptist baptising – recall to pure Judaism – young going to gymnasia.

Cross political – king of the Jews.

Give to Caesar what is his and to God what is his (land?)

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