Saturday, September 27, 2008

Cliff Notes: Jesus the Liberator

Jon Sobrino, a Spanish-born Jesuit theologian in El Salvador, has written numerous books about Jesus Christ and Latin American spirituality and theology over the last thirty years.

His 'Jesus the Liberator' takes the suffering poor of El Salvador as a starting point for understanding Christ. The resulting picture is of Jesus Christ as historically liberating and as carrying a liberating message of the Kingdom of God as a kingdom through, and on behalf of, the poor.

Sobrino begins the volume with a confessional introduction. Why write a christology? More specifically, why write yet another christology? Generally, Because liberation and crucifixion, hope and persecution, remain a central tension within Christianity, and one that can only be reconciled by understanding Jesus Christ.

Because the re-emergence of a historical understanding of Christ means a new understanding of Christ, and one that has already been fruitful for believers. Because the mystery of Christ is not an abundance of darkness, but an over-abundance of luminosity. Because Christ ill-considered can be Christ abused as an instrument of oppression. And because it is the necessary means of giving reasons for the hope that Christians have, and, simultaneously, the vital articulation of a Christ glimpsed by the silenced people of the world.

Why Sobrino's Christology, in particular? Because in Latin America Christ is still actively present to the masses, and this is not the case in much of the rest of the world. In Africa, he is not present to most. In Eurpose, he is not active. Because in spite of this reality (or perhaps because of it) Christ is mis-used to defend the status quo of oppression in Latin America.

Because Christ asked "Who do you say that I am?" and it is by our answers to this questions that personal and ecclesial change occurs. Because suffering forces thinking, and so suffering for Christ forces thinking about Christ. Because of gratitude for the evangelion, the good news of Christ, which is both Christ's message and the person of Christ himself.

The purpose of Sobrino's christology, then, is to "set forth the truth of Christ from the standpoint of liberation." The resulting Christ will not be entirely original, but will depend heavily on the perspectives from extant and increasing oppression. This Christ will have three aspects: his service to the Kingdom of God, his relationship to God the Father, and his death on the cross.

Such specificity is not distortive or arbitrary, because a liberating approach to Christ is precisely the one more apt to be inclusive than others, and because the study of Christ must result in spiritual goods for believers- something that, again, a liberating Christ is well-poised to accomplish.

Indeed, Sobrino closes by writing, a liberating Christ has already done so. He wrote the book in the middle of a war, of threats, of persecution, of the martyrdom of his colleagues and associates. It is a book for the crucified people of a nation, his country of El Salvadore.

This atomosphere, I would add, gives Sobrino's book about Christ a viscerality absent from nearly any other theological work I have read. It might as well be a book written in blood, and it is with some urgency that I ask my readers to follow me along its thorny path.

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