Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cliff Notes: A New Image and a New Faith in Christ

Sobrino's second chapter of Jesus the Liberator begins with the assertion that the Church in Latin America has emphasized the divinity of Jesus at the expense of his humanity. This is in direct oppostion to the image that the poor of Jesus have long held: Jesus suffering on the cross for their sake and along with them.

This image is of Christ conquered and annihilated. In this Christ the poor recognized themselves, and from him took patience and resignation.

But this Christ did not stay on the cross. This Christ has become in recent years 'Jesus the Liberator.' This has happened as a self-adjustment of the mass of believers in Latin America, for whom Christ must be both relevant and identifiable. Christ on the cross must remaining the suffereing Jesus of history, but must also have the power to liberate them from the systems of oppression on the continent, and to inspire them to be agents of liberation themselves.

This new image of Christ has led to a new way of living faith in Him. It has led them to martyrdom and an explicit conflict with the systems of oppression. This new faith means first and foremost following Jesus in a historical and existential sense.

The conflict the new believers face results from being specifically for the poor and specifically against their oppressors. That this has occurred after five hundred years of a transcendent, abstract and removed image of Christ as a reconciler without conflict and a savior without condemnation might explain to some degree the violence incurred by and through the shift.

But it does not explain why the image of Christ has not previously raised any questions about centuries of systematic repression and abuse until now. We can only say that this has failed to happen because the Church has severed Christ from Jesus, abstracted God from man, the Messiah from history, and individual sin from collective persecution.

In other words, Christ has been love, without loving anyone specifically, and Christ has been a reconciler who condemned none of the parties, who loved the poor but did not condemn the rich and the self-righteous.

Part of the undoing of this failed image of Christ has been to place him back within trinitarian relationship as a reference point in the Kingdom of God and the God of the Kingdom. To removed Christ from absolute abstraction and place him in relation and in historic specificity.

This image of Jesus, it should be noted, is not precisely new but present in the Church's own authoritative documents which equate salvation with liberation and posit a Christ with partiality for the poor. This image of Christ is also consonant with Christian principles of hope and practice and the presence of Christ in the oppressed, "simply because they are poor."

Most powerfully, then, the poor become a sort of sacrament of the presence of Christ. The poor call us to conversion and to solidarity with lives of service, simplicity and openness to the gifts of God.

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