Responsive image
Nederlands/Vlaams Deutsch Francais English language Spanish language Portuguese language Catalan Chinese Czech Malayalam Finnish Igbo
Japanese Korean Romanian Malay language Norwegian Swedish Polish Swahili Chichewa Tagalog Urdu
Jesus of Nazareth, Christ the Liberator

Jesus of Nazareth, Christ the Liberator

by Carlos Bravo

Chapter 6 from Systematic Theology - Perspectives from Liberation Theology edited by Jon Sobrino, S.J. and Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J.
SCM Press Ltd 1996 pp. 106-123

Reproduced on www.womenpriests website with kind permission of Orbis publishers.


1. The Faith of an Oppressed and Believing People

Christian faith refers to three histories: (1) present history; (2) its founding history, of Jesus; (3) which is mediated by the history of the church community, and is an experience of life rather than a reflection on life.

In Latin America this is the faith of an oppressed and believing people, in whose five-hundred-year history faith has been interrelated with both oppression and liberation. When we speak of oppression we are speaking about a conquest that manipulated God’s name in favor of its economic and political interests, institutionalized violence, infant deaths, violation of human rights, illiteracy, hunger, unpayable foreign debt. And when we speak of living faith we are talking about love in practice, solidarity, the search for justice, organization, a sense of festival, and the experience of freely receiving in the presence of God, while struggling for life and freedom.

In an unjust and unequal society the person of the risen Jesus acquires a new dimension as the inspirer of liberating utopias. We who have been found by him see oppression and injustice in a different manner, not just as a social phenomenon, but as that which makes the Kingdom impossible and betrays the Father’s name. Once this encounter has taken place we cannot behave as if it had not happened.

So faith begins to develop new formulations to speak about him. Our experience of Jesus as Messiah is mediated by the experience of life-threatening evils. This requires us to make a political and social commitment-to stand against the situation that prevents the Father’s reign. In Jesus’ life we do not find the explanation for why history is as it is. But we do find the impulse driving it to cease being a history of death and become a history of life. This is very important both to overcome the christology of resignation (of a suffering Christ with no resurrection) and the christology of domination (the imperial or conquering Christ who manipulates the memory of Jesus in favor of imperialist projects).

So we start by assuming that in Latin America we believe in Jesus as the Son of God, Lord of history, liberating Messiah. But we have to explain the content of these titles. They mean different things from the viewpoint of the conqueror’s world and the world in which Indians die, from the viewpoint of the White House and that of Nicaragua.

2. The Truth of Confessions of Faith

This does not mean that the titles given to Jesus are neutral. They are formulas which in their time faithfully expressed in symbols of their own culture Jesus’ saving significance for believers. Their validity comes from their continuity with the founding reality of Jesus as their norm, and the cultural reality of believers as their cultural conditioning.

Every expression of faith has to pass the double truth test: truth to Jesus in whom Emmanuel (the Son of God with us) was given and revealed to us, and truth to the particular people whose faith it expresses and bears. Hence the need for many different formulations of the inexhaustible mystery of Jesus. The Christian scriptures model this with many functional christologies, corresponding to different communities(1).

First and foremost the Christian community must submit its formulations and practices to the critique made of them by Jesus’ own practice. Otherwise they are subject to fashion and their language merely trendy (academic, neo-liberal, guerrilla, even extraterrestrial). This fails to convey the fundamental novelty of the fact of Jesus; that is, that God, while remaining transcendent and unattainable (“no one has ever seen God” [I John 4:12]), entered history, moved within our reach in Jesus.

This raises a series of questions: why did Jesus come? To confirm history as it is, leaving it untouched’? To condemn it? To save it? But how? By spiritualizing it? Ritualizing it? Telling it about God? Or by subverting it? In the unequal and oppressive society in which Jesus lived, which side was he on and what kind of life did he lead? The answers to these questions cannot be deduced from an idea of God prior to what was revealed about God in the new and unrepeatable life of Jesus of Nazareth. This is what gives meaning to the titles we give him, not the other way around with the titles showing the meaning of his life and behavior.

Second, in order to be faithful to Jesus the formulations reached by the Christian community must be mediated by a knowledge of the actual oppression from which history needs to be liberated in order to be faithful to Jesus. A Christian cannot just stand contemplating Jesus, or gasp in moral indignation against injustice. We must move on to make the connection, that is, to “the effective pity” which liberates (cf. Exod. 3:7 ff.).

This leads to further questions: Is the christology elaborated faithful to this Jesus and to what continues to be his cause: liberation’? To whom is it committed: the oppressors or the oppressed? Is it in solidarity with the actual project for which Jesus gave his life? Does it realize that all theology, in fact, regardless of its intentions, takes sides and is involved, even when it claims to be neutral?

We realize that discipleship is the indispensable way to reach the mystery of Jesus, and that without it no theology enables us to “see” Jesus. In this chapter we shall try to express what we believe about Jesus from the standpoint of the poor. The two aspects of theology, the narrative and the systematic, intermingle. The gospel narrative justifies us in not doing our theological thinking from above, but from below, not deductively but inductively. Finally, by way of conclusion, we shall briefly sum up the fundamental statements of faith in Jesus.


1. Methodological Base: The Jesus Who Makes History

A fundamental task of biblical studies has been to determine the minimal structure of Jesus’ practice. This is very important to ensure we do not end up with a fundamentalist reading, out of context, which manipulates Jesus’ work to suit us. (We might turn him into a moral teacher or an ahistorical figure whose death would have nothing to do with his choices and his practice.) But this minimal structure is not enough for discipleship. In Latin America the search for the historical minimum regarding Jesus does not formally require the objective determination of what Jesus did, but rather what he would do today, if he were driven by the Spirit it in this different situation. This task also requires a knowledge of the present situation. Both faith in Jesus and commitment to the situation today are fundamental for discipleship.(2)

In “Jesus who makes history” there are three dialectical terms which make up the fact of Jesus: (1) Jesus of Nazareth as the originating fact; (2) the Risen Jesus confirmed by the Father; (3) the movement of his followers in which his Spirit continues to inspire the promotion of his cause. This is what appears in Mark’s final narrative (16:6ff.)

The first term, the thesis, is the life of Jesus of Nazareth, which is dewed in the antithesis, the crucifixion. This in turn is overcome (but not ignored) by the resurrection, which is the synthesis, a “negation of the negation.” It is not a return to life but a leap forward, which assumes the life denied by death and the death itself, whose marks are kept by the Risen Christ on his hands and side. But in its turn this resurrection becomes a thesis, which is denied as “verifiable here” in the tomb (antithesis). His new presence is in Galilee, by way of “going before them.” He only precedes those who follow him. So following is the final synthesis; it is the epistemological condition for the experience of Jesus. Galilee, the place where Jesus worked, now becomes the place to follow him to, the only place where he can be “seen.”

So, to “see” Jesus it is not enough to have access to the historical Jesus, who could become entombed. This would be like the women who sought him in the memory of one who died, to find and leave embalmed and inactive for the rest of history. We have to have the Paschal experience and to bear witness, which is what gives him permanent presence in history.

In this task of following it is important to take seriously the humanity of Jesus’ consciousness. Not out of psychological curiosity. The important thing is his human reality and the very possibility of our being able to follow him. If Jesus was just an ordinary man, if he had not been confirmed by the Father as his Son in the resurrection, we would not have the Christian duty to follow him. If he was just God and not man (that is, if he were a kind of superman) we could not follow him. Neither could we follow him unless a chain of witnesses to his life had come down to us through the church, a chain which continues.

Therefore, it is important not only to know what he did but also how and why he did it;to respect God’s decision to become human; and to assume the responsibility of following Jesus in promoting his cause

2. Jesus’ Roots.

We know about the situation in the time of Jesus through research. We know about the principal groups that existed and their practices and ideologies. There is a correlation of forces between them which determines the people’s situation. This people’s history was not written down because no one writes about the fate of the conquered. Nevertheless, we can read it between the lines of the conqueror’s history. Thus we can place Jesus’ practice as a response to this situation.

From the economic point of view Jesus’ people are deprived of their land, exploited by an unjust system. They must pay tribute and are impoverished; they lack living space and security. And this has a religious dimension, because it empties of content the promise of the land and goes against God’s plan for the people. Jesus responds by helping the people in their basic living requirements: health and food. He breaks the exclusive circle of property and prophetically criticizes the rich. He turns human values upside down-the central thing is not to accumulate and to have, but to share. Therefore it will be the poor who possess the Kingdom and also the land. From this conviction he outlines the egalitarian utopia of the Kingdom: abundance for all based on the free gift of the Father to all God’s children.

Politically this is a subject people, sometimes with bloody repression. No one responds to their just aspirations; they have no power to decide their own destiny. The people resist and agitate with Messianic hopes of liberation. But they are caught up in passivity and fatalism born of historical frustrations and the present foreign rule. This also has a religious dimension, because it is.an affront to the reality of God’s dominion over the people. In the face of this, Jesus announces the Father’s sovereignty in favor of the poor. He prophetically denounces the ruling power through a lucid critical analysis and breaks the vicious circle of power and violence by denouncing its inability to build a new world. He subverts the idea of authority by saying it can only be exercised in service. He outlines the egalitarian utopia of the Kingdom: peace born of justice, in which all God’s children share.

In the religious sphere they are an expectant people but disorientated in their expectations. Excluded by their religious leaders as impure and as “the accursed people” without rights before God, they are marginalised from the promise of the Kingdom. This is where Jesus points to the principal contradiction: the establishment has deprived the people of hope. Jesus responds by offering them an alternative in God’s preference for the poor and the marginalised. Thus he, generates new hope. He corrects the Messianic idea of God’s vengeance against sinners. He breaks the exclusive circle of the law of purity. He reincorporates the marginalised into the people of God. He strips the Jewish establishment of its authority and its interpretation of the law, by teaching with authority. He changes the center of value for the law, which becomes a matter of loving-mercy and justice-rather than a matter of knowing or being pure. He prophetically criticizes the cult and its ritual observances. Thus he outlines the egalitarian utopia of the Kingdom. It is brotherhood and sisterhood deriving from a. common Father and requires truth and freedom in this relationship.

3. Becoming Incarnate: Being a People

As he was a Jew, Jesus’ image of God would be on the following lines: Yahweh is the God of the promise made to a people who do not possess the land; Yahweh is the God of the covenant, the people’s only Lord, who has been supplanted by a foreign idolatrous power. Yahweh is the God of resistance to injustice, who hears the cry of the people and acts upon it. And now the time has come for Yahweh God to intervene.

Like the lay people to whom he belongs, and to whom he never ceases to belong, Jesus is offered many religious options: Apocalyptic thinking speaks of a world governed by evil, in which God has decided to intervene finally to inaugurate the kingdom. The Sadducees reject this, secure in their own well-being, because the prophetic proclamations seem to them to be “liberationist novelties.” The Pharisees commandeer the Kingdom, excluding the “accursed people who do not know the law” (John 7:39); they believe they can hasten its coming by strict observance of the law of purity and exclusion of the impure. There is an incipient armed resistance movement. John the Baptist speaks of another way of saving oneself from the “wrath to come,” through baptism and conversion.

4. A Different God

This movement of John’s is a challenge to the Jewish leaders: forgiveness is being offered in an outsider context, not just in Jerusalem. It is offered through conversion and baptism, and not through sacrifices and ritual purifications. Further, the mediator is a lay prophet, not a priest. News of the hopes being raised by John reach Jesus in Nazareth. The decision to leave home and go to find John is a vital one, which changes the direction of Jesus’ life forever.

Jesus has an experience of a different God. This God is the people’s Abba (Daddy). Poor people’s lives matter toAbba (Matt. 6:9-13). They manifest the reality of God’s fatherhood in history. God has decided to reign now, changing the situation of those who are outcast, not by magic, not through a power like that of the powerful, but through kenosis and hiddenness, because what is being offered is love.

Jesus experiences himself as absolutely and unconditionally committed to the task of announcing this Reign and making it accepted. It is in this that “being the Son of God in history” consistsbeing responsible for his life-project in a world of death, answering in the Father’s name, doing it justice. We can speak of a conversion in Jesus: a change of life that leads him inward and drives him to communicate this new experience of God, to regenerate hope.

But how to go about it? What he has experienced clashes with the ideas of those in authority, even with what John is preaching. Jesus is tempted about the means. Should he continue along the same lines as John? Should he throw himself into a spectacular campaign of public Messianism? Should he ally himself with any of the already existing groups? What should he do about the foreseeable antagonistic reactions of the Jewish establishment? What is at stake is his faith in God-a God concerned with life, the Father, who cannot be subjected to a magic test doing violence to history, because God is offering a free gift, one which does not enter into alliance with other powers or do deals with any system. God’s gift is free and not negotiable.

Mark and Matthew refer to the event that offered Jesus the occasion to avoid this situation of temptation: the arrest of John (Mark 1:14ff.; Matt. 4:12 ff.). Jesus will not continue John’s work; he leaves the Jordan and decides to go off to Galilee to preach the Good News of the Abba, who is coming to reign.

5. The Reign of Life in a World of Death

Henceforth this will be his only cause. The life of the poor is where the Father’s name is proved holy. The Kingdom cannot come until the lot of the poor has changed; it will not come while there is still injustice and inequality. Jesus’ project is the reordering of two relationships (1) between human beings and God; whom they must treat as a Father; and (2) among human beings themselves, who should treat one another as brothers and sisters, God’s family. The earth is the common heritage given by God for the life of all. Thus human beings can live together in the right way, dependent upon God and upon each other. Jesus says he has been sent to announce this Good News to the poor; it is the year of grace for the blind, the oppressed, the prisoners (Luke 4:18 ff.). His experience of the Father does not remain in heaven, because he knows his Reign is also an earthly and historical matter. It has to do with food for all people, forgiveness of sins, the overcoming of the actual evil that threatens us, the recognition of God’s fatherhood, which makes us all equally children of God. For this to be possible Jesus makes three things clear: there is an irreducible opposition between the Kingdom and money, the Kingdom and prestige, and the Kingdom and power.

The Kingdom and Money

The Kingdom belongs to the poor (Luke 6:20), and the rich as such have no part in it (Luke 6:24ff.; 16:19-31; Mark 10:23-25). Because money is an idol that seeks to be an absolute, it is not possible to serve God and money (Matt. 6:24). Jesus does not idealize poverty; it is the result of sin, of exclusive possession. His ideal is abundance for all (expressed in the symbol of the banquet of the Kingdom). But for this to become possible he teaches detachment and giving up the goods of this world (Matt. 6:25-33). He invites people to share in the life of the poor (Luke 14:13ff.), so that we can have a common family life on earth, neither rich nor poor. Meanwhile he stands firmly on the side of the poor, through effective pity for them and at the same time through love for the rich, whose complicity with the kingdom of Satan places them in danger. Money creates a divided society of haves and have-nots. It makes God’s fatherhood in history impossible.

The Kingdom and Prestige

In a society which gave enormous importance to social status, Jesus stands on the wrong side, with those no one wants to be with; he realizes that prestige is also a divisive principle, opposed to equality. He declares that God is on the side of the little people, those who have no value for society (cf. Matt. 18:10). He says that welcoming them is welcoming him and the Father (Mark 9:37). He attacks the scribes and pharisees (Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; 23:5-7; Luke 11:4552), and he is glad that the Father’s self-revelation has been to the simple, not the wise (Matt. 11:25 ff.). This is why Jesus makes himself the last of all and the servant of all, when in an act of “madness” to the world he kneels down before his disciples (John 13:2-5). In the end he will die disgraced before all (Mark 15:29-32), outside the walls of the city, between two rebels (Mark 15:27ff.).(3)

The Kingdom and Power

The final divisive principle is what decides who has power over whom. This power tends to be murderous because it stays on top only by suppressing the rights of those it dominates. Against this power Jesus places service as the constructive force in the new society. He unmasks political power when he says “those who claim to govern nations behave despotically and the powerful oppress the people” (Mark 10:42). Speaking in code language-because of the danger he runs-he denies that Caesar has any right to collect an idolatrous tax. He demands that what belongs to God should be given back to God; that is, the government of the people, which Caesar unjustly holds (Luke 11:39-52; Matt. 23:1-36; Mark 7:1-23; 11:15-17; 12:1-12, 35-40). Because he stands on the side of the oppressed, Jesus will die “under the power of Pontius Pilate” as an accursed criminal (Gal 3:13) in total powerlessness and abandon.

6. The Galilean Spring

There was a real blooming of life around Jesus. Many hopes found an echo in his message and his behavior. To enlarge his sphere of action Jesus gathered a group of disciples, as new shepherds for the forsaken and ill-treated people (Matt. 9:36). At one point this call seems to have had an eschatological character; they will be the twelve foundations of the people of the promise. This is provocative to the establishment. The real Israel is being set up now in Galilee by common people. In this initial heterogeneous group some probably secretly hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, one who would put an end to Roman rule, by military means, of course.(4)

Jesus’ popularity becomes a temptation to Peter and other comrades, who see the opportunity for a popular triumph for their imagined Messiah. Jesus overcomes this temptation to regionalize the Kingdom in the illusion of a facile territorial triumph and decides to enlarge his field of action (Mark 1:35-38).

By his cures Jesus is not claiming to prove anything about himself, but to give signs of the liberating presence of the Father who reigns. Their importance does not lie in being anything exceptional, but rather in pointing people to God: “If by the finger of God I cast out demons, this is a sign that the Kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). Identifying in a “scandalous” way with sinners, he also restores them to the promise, rescuing their dignity and freeing them from shame and guilt. By his solidarity he shows people that God accepts them.

The effects do not take long to show. The change taking place in the world of the poor through Jesus’ actions makes people compare teaching with teaching, practice with practice, that of Jesus and that of the scribes, and to conclude that Jesus indeed teaches with authority. He speaks and changes the situation for the outcast. With the scribes it is the opposite; they talk and talk and nothing new ever happens. But this comparison is a warning to Jesus. The establishment will not easily tolerate such parallel authority (Mark 3:6), which is moreover beginning to make the people criticize their leaders (Mark 1:22, 23).

The connection between the miracles and the Kingdom was not plain. Jesus did not respond to the apocalyptic type of expectations and those aroused by John. He does not present himself as the bringer of God’s judgment. To the question whether he is the one or should they wait for another, Jesus replies by quoting Isaiah. The culminating point of this text is not the miracles but the final phrase: “The poor have the good news preached to them” (Luke 7:22). The miracles are the sign that what the alternative God is offering is true. They do not put an end to all misfortune and evil, but they clearly signal the direction faith in him should follow; his most important task is the struggle against all human misery, disease, hunger, ignorance, slavery, all kinds of inhumanity. And blessed are they who are not scandalized that this is what the Kingdom of God is like (Luke 7:23).

The first cloud appears when Jesus begins to increase activities that transgress the law of purity: he heals on the sabbath (Mark 1:21-23; 3:1-6; Luke 13:14ff.; Matt. 12:9-13); he becomes impure by touching the impure (Mark 1:3-31; 5:27,41; 6:5; Luke 13:12ff.), especially a leper (Mark 1:41-45), to make them feel God’s nearness, which the establishment has deprived them of, declaring them to be accursed by God (John 7:39); he calls a tax-collector to follow him and eats with him and his friends (Matt. 9:9 ff.); he is not afraid of dealing with prostitutes (Luke 7:36-50), to whom he also opens a door of hope in the Kingdom (Matt. 21:31). A number of women work with him. They too have been barred from any activity for the Kingdom by the Jewish laws of purity (Luke 8:1-3; Mark 15:40 ff.).

Arguments with the scribes and pharisees seem to have been frequent (Mark 2:1-3,6; 7:1-23; 11:15-12:48; Luke 11:37-53; Matt. 23; John 2:13-22; 5:16-47; 7:14-39; 8:12-59; 10:22-39). What is in question is not something peripheral to his faith but the very core of the reality of the God in whom he believes. The consequence is that very early on we hear of plans to bring about Jesus’ death (Mark 3:6; Luke 4:22ff.; Matt. 12:14; John 5:16; 7:30, 44; 8:20, 59; 10:31; 11:8, 49-53, 56).

Jesus tries to protect himself against these threats. He never acts with foolish imprudence (cf. John 6:1, 15; 7:1-10; 8:1, 59b; 10:39ff.; 11:54; Luke 4:30; Matt. 12:15; Mark 3:7). In Mark, one of the objects of the parables appears to be to give the message in cryptic form to protect Jesus, who was accused of blasphemy (punishable by death 2:7), breaking the sabbath (also punishable by death, 3:2,6), being possessed by the devil (3:22) and mad (3:20). Perhaps he is expressing his own experience in his advice to his disciples to be “cunning as serpents and simple as doves” (Matt. 10:l6b).

7. The Beginning of the Crisis

But what happens to the Kingdom? In the beginning Jesus expected the triumph of his religious mission, but later he began to realize that his mission would lead to a fatal conflict with his politico-religious society. His disciples have false hopes and cannot understand (Mark 4:13, 35-41). He himself realizes he is at risk from his own work and the people (Mark 3:9ff.; 5:30-32). His compatriots are shocked by the works he does, seeing he is one of them (Mark 6:2 ff.). Jesus understands the mortal logic of all this: no prophet is accepted by his own people (Matt. 13:57); prophets are murdered. But why does his work not arouse faith? (Mark 6:6a).

It is painful not to be able to make himself understood by his people. They did not understand John, and they do not understand him (Matt. 11:18 ff.). They do not realize that now the final era has arrived, that Elijah has already come. The cities in which he has done the most miracles are the ones most closed against him. His people have stubborn hearts; they do not want to think of anything beyond their own health and food for the day.

In this context Jesus intensifies his activity in the service of life and sends out the Twelve to widen his sphere of action. There was one event which must have had particular resonance among the oppressed people: what Mark enigmatically calls “that of the loaves” (6:52). A large crowd, which had been following Jesus for several days, was hungry. The people’s situation does not bother their shepherds at all. So Jesus takes care of them (Mark 6:34). He not only gives them the word of God but also gives them food in abundance. In this way he shows that God feeds his people and that physical needs, hunger, and sickness are a matter for the Kingdom.

The people go in another direction. They want him to lead them as their king (John 6:15). Jesus sends his disciples away, so that they do not encourage this kind of uprising (Mark 6:45); he takes leave of the people and goes into hiding (John 6:15). He faces this moment of temptation in prayer to his Father (Mark 6:46). Why do the people not see the signs of the Kingdom? Why are they only concerned with the material side of his activities?

The growing conflict with the establishment reaches its height, according to Mark’s narrative, because his disciples eat without bothering about purification rites (7:1 ff.). The Pharisees’ criticism becomes the occasion for Jesus to unmask the deep unfaithfulness they hide beneath their apparent piety. They fuss about trivialities but violate the fundamental tenets of the law - mercy and justice - which are truly a matter of life and death for the people, whereas fulfilling ritual prescriptions is not.

Now Jesus is a danger to the Jewish establishment. So he has to get out of their reach. He does not go into Syrian territory on a missionary journey but to take refuge (Mark 7:24). And there the Galilee crisis brews.

8. Crisis and Confirmation

Rahner speaks of “extreme crises of self-identification” (5) in Jesus. There are sufficient indications of the people’s dismay as their interest in Jesus declines. They are disappointed by this Kingdom he proclaims. John the Baptist himself expresses this disappointment: “Are you the one who was to come or should we look for another?” (Matt. 1 l :2-6). Some of his disciples desert (John 6:67). Jesus stakes everything. “Who do people say that I am . . . And you, who do you say that I am?” This is not an educational question laying the ground for teaching. The disciples’ reply stays at a merely human level: “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29), with whose triumph they hope to be associated (Mark 9:34; 10:35-45). They misinterpret his Messiahship.

Such a proclamation does not fit the truth about Jesus, and under Roman rule it places him in obvious danger. This is why he corrects the reply and enjoins silence (Mark 8:30), but he takes on the struggle to the end: “I am going to die at the hands of men” (cf. Luke 9:44). It is quite clear what is important to Jesus and for what he has risked his life. Now he has to accept the consequences of having adopted the Father’s cause and the cause of the poor. He does this convinced that the Kingdom is greater than the failure of his strategy. Violent death, perhaps by stoning (cf. John 8:59; 10:31-33), is now a real threat to him.

There must have been a serious problem with Peter in this matter; the community would not have just invented this confrontation between them. We are told that Peter rebuked Jesus (Mark 8:33). Orthodox in its formulation, his confession remained at the purely human level, and there was no room in it for such a radical commitment to the death. Jesus remonstrates with him in the harshest words he ever uses against anyone: “Get behind me, Satan.” Peter’s proposal is a temptation for him.

Jesus risks remaining alone (John 6:68). But he has to state honestly the change that has taken place in his mission. Because of it, anyone who goes on following him has to be ready for death (Mark 8:34-38). He proposes a new radical mode of discipleship. During the first stage the Kingdom was mediated by the preaching of conversion and by miracles. Now it is not just a matter of words and deeds. What is required is total commitment (Luke 12:49f.) to unmask the power that makes the Kingdom impossible: the religious power which has kidnapped the freely-giving God of the covenant and put in God’s place a deity of laws, merits and purifications. Only with a total commitment can a free space for the Kingdom be created; the only way of saving one’s life is to risk it with Jesus for the Kingdom (Luke 9:24-26).

In his prayer Jesus has a deep experience of confirmation by the Father (Luke 9:28). He has not preached himself or focused the people on his person; in everything he has behaved as the Son. Disaster strikes him because of the inevitable confrontation between his declaration for the Father and the poor, the outcast, in a world which speaks of a “God” who favors the select few. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). The voice confirms Jesus as the only way for the disciples. Now there will be neither Moses (Law) nor Elijah (Prophets) (Matt. 17:8); Jesus alone is enough, the Son who has done what pleases the Father and who is the one to follow.

9.Training of the Disciples

. Unmasking the religious power is a challenge to the Jewish establishment, which will very probably end in death. But the disciples are not yet well enough trained to take on the cause of the Kingdom. In view of the certainty of approaching death, Jesus leaves off working with the people and decides to train his disciples (Mark 9:30-31 a), in order to consolidate more organically the community which will make his mission possible. One by one he starts correcting their judgments and values. They have to understand that these are new times now; the coming of Elijah (John the Baptist, cf. Matt. 17:13) is the signal. In these times the conditions for fighting against evil are faith and prayer (Mark 9:14-29). They must welcome the little ones (Mark 9:14-29) because they are the ones God prefers (Mark 10:13-16): they have to understand that riches are a fundamental obstacle to the Kingdom (Mark 10:17-27), and as the ideal of the Kingdom is abundance for all, the way to it is poverty in order to share with those who have nothing (Mark 10:28-31); in the Kingdom the original equality between man and woman is fundamental (Mark 10:2-12). But above all, their hearts must be preparing for the style of the Kingdom. Instead of the disciples’ ambitions for power, Jesus offers them service as the norm (Mark 9:33-35; 10:35-45); then they will be able to discern what alliances to make and which to reject (Mark 9:38 ff.). 10.

10. The Final Confrontation with the Jewish Establishment

Jesus’ death only has meaning when it is seen from after the resurrection. But it is not enough to look at it from a Paschal perspective. We must also look at it as it was before the resurrection. And to do this first we must ask these questions: Why did Jesus go to Jerusalem and for what? Let us reply to these questions from the gospel texts themselves.

We will not go into the controversy about the number of times Jesus went up to Jerusalem and when. We start, rather, from the obvious fact that there was a last journey to Jerusalem, in which the whole history of Jesus’ difficult relationship with the establishment culminated. Jesus made this journey aware that “every prophet dies in Jerusalem.”

Rather than formulating hypotheses on his intentions, let us look at what he in fact does. Three large blocks appear. In the first two Jesus is the principal character, and his actions unmask and condemn the establishment. In the third, Jesus hardly acts at all, he is the passive object of the whole drama and is condemned and assassinated by the establishment.

Jesus Unmasks the Establishment at Its Center

John and the Synoptics show the confrontation over the temple differently. We ‘shall follow the Synoptic account because, whatever happened, this fact was decisive in Jesus’ last confrontation with the Jewish establishment: the fundamental accusation is that he intends to destroy it.

The moment comes when Jesus decides to confront the establishment at its center. What he said in outlying Galilee is not enough. He chooses the moment of the Passover celebration, the festival of Jewish liberation. It is a careful, thought-out decision, and he knows his life is at stake. He is aware of the Messianic hopes that have arisen around him. The corrections he has made to these expectations have not been enough. Therefore his first action is symbolic; he enters Jerusalem on a donkey. This means hopes of his leadership cannot be maintained.

The scope of the temple episode has been much discussed. We think it should be interpreted not as a purification, after which it could go on being the symbolic center of the people of the promise. We see it as a taking over of the temple, whose sterility it unmasks. Jesus preaches its destruction and the need to abandon it, because God’s presence is no longer to be found there (cf. Matt. 27:51 ff.).

But why does Jesus go against the religious establishment and not against the Roman political establishment? We must seek for what light we can find on this question. It is evident that Jesus rejects Roman rule, which goes against the exclusive Reign of Yahweh. The burden of the tribute is not only unjust, but it is also intolerable because it appertains to the cult of the emperor. Because of the danger of the situation he says in coded language: “Render to Caesar this idolatrous coin which is a blot upon Israel and give to God what belongs to him, which is the government of the people, unjustly held in Caesar’s power.” He analyzes Rome’s political domination and judges it unjust (cf. Mark 5:9,13; 10:42; 12:16, l7; 13:14; Luke 13:32ff.) (6) But the travesty the religious leaders make of God and his project is the principal obstacle to the people’s hope.

So two elements are fundamental to Jesus’ condemnation: the way in which he unmasks the temple, revealing its sterility and injustice (“not one stone will be left upon another”), and the opposition to the payment of tribute, for this is how his enemies interpret his words. The people, or at least some of them, support him and acclaim him. We may suppose these are the ones who have come with him from Galilee, not the people of Jerusalem, who are keener to maintain their status than to support change. But this only sharpens the conflict with the authorities, who cannot find a way to kill him. The opportunity is offered by the treachery of one of the Twelve, Judas.

The Meaning of Meaninglessness

The circle closes round Jesus. What is he to do? In the context of the memorial of the Passover, a liberation frustrated by the domination under which they are living in their own country, and facing betrayal, Jesus understands that this is not the moment to flee or to resist violence.

Now the word denounce is not enough. The moment has come to renounce, so that his death will openly show the murderous nature of that power which is so seductive, especially when it is exercised in God’s name, but which continues to cause the death of every prophet, because it continues to cause the death of the poor, God’s children.

In a prophetic action with deep symbolic meaning, and with the eschatological certainty that the Kingdom will triumph, Jesus expresses the meaning of his life. He gathers together with his friends for the last time and sums up in a gesture what he has always done: he is departing and he shares himself for the life of the people, so that they may have a part in him; he pours out his life so that the crowd can become an organized people, the people of God. This is how he wants us always to remember him - in the shared bread and his blood poured out for the life of the people. He orders us to do likewise, to break apart and share the bread, and to depart, to set out and share ourselves so that his subversive memory may go on generating this same way of being-in-the-world. This will be his new form of presence in history: giving himself for the life of the people. This subversive memory of Jesus is betrayed again every time it is ritualized and held up for worship so that it need not be disturbing and transforming.

This taking on of renunciation is not done openly in broad daylight. He experiences the deepest threat that a human life and work can suffer-the meaninglessness of an unjust and violent death. A natural death would not threaten the future of his work in the same way, even though it would also be a final point. But to die (perhaps by stoning) as a false prophet? Who will believe in his proclamation of the Kingdom? Won’t his death mean the death of his Father’s cause?

This is the next to last moment of temptation. How is Jesus to react to the unjust violence of the Jewish establishment? To flee would leave the field open to the lie that the establishment operated with regard to God. It would be equivalent to saying that the cause he had lived for was not important enough to risk his life for. Neither can he defend himself by violence. But there is no reply to his questions. The Son has to trust in his Abba, even in his silence. God is different from how he imagined. “Everything is possible,” God says, but Jesus discovers that God cannot go against human decisions. God does not leap into history and spare him any of the human condition. As it says in Romans, “He did not spare his own Son” anything (8:32); he did not spare himself the pain of giving up thus unconditionally his Son. Jesus discovers that God’s way of being in history is not in power but in kenosis, in hiddenness. respecting human freedom even when it is used against God’s plan.

Jesus goes down into an abyss of loneliness. The disciples do not seem to understand what is about to happen. Jesus decides not to assume his own defense but to leave himself in his Abba’s hands, with a faith greater even than the catastrophe. The Son’s trust is answered by the Father’s faithfulness. The Father “cannot” reassure his Son that God is near and give him the certainty that his cry is heard (cf. Heb. 5:7-10). The Father also shows trust in Jesus; the Father keeps quiet and does not intervene. This tells us that it is not God we need to call to account for silence in the face of human violence. We have to question the murderers themselves. God did not manipulate history either in the face of the Son’s death or in answer to his cries.

The Establishment Against Jesus

Jesus is not so much judged as condemned. However, the accusations sound : truthful. From the religious point of view the leaders understood very well what this was about: the Yahweh of their cult against Jesus’ Abba. Jesus’ behavior was an attack on the Temple. He himself understood it to be so: “I give you my word dial anyone who says to that mountain: ‘Move and throw yourself into the sea’ will let what he asks for” (Mark 11:23). He is confident that his faith will obtain the overthrow of the religious establishment of Israel.

From the political point of view, an effective love, which confronts an unjust situation, can be misinterpreted as an ambition for power. Jesus ran this risk rather than tun the greater risk of letting it be thought that his love was neutral - a matter of feelings and wishes but inactive.

What finally brings Jesus to judgment is his fight for the outcast masses, so that they are not banished from the Kingdom. Jesus is condemned for the God in whom he believes, the Abba whose fatherhood is a public matter. And he is condemned for the way he says this Father can be reached: through grace and his preference for the poor rather than through sacrifices; by the practice of love, not in the Temple but in suffering human beings.

Whether there are two religious trials or just one, whether the Jewish authorities could really pass sentence of death, whether Pilate tried to save Jesus or not, are all things which do not qualitatively change the reality: we human beings killed the Son whom God sent to save us. We cannot minimize this great injustice by calling it a superhuman drama in which God “settles accounts” with humanity at the price of the Son’s blood. We killed him, and we go on killing God’s children whenever they disturb the plans of the powerful. We condemned God’s own Son as a blasphemer: he sought total and complete liberation for humanity, and we condemned him as subversive of the established order.

This explanation of the historical background to Jesus’ death (reasons of state end national security, orthodoxy) does not give an adequate account of the total meaning of this event, which from faith’s point of view is the chief milestone in history. God integrated this injustice into the plan of salvation. God did not annihilate the murderers, but showed the final salvation of Jesus and his cause through his resurrection and followers. Without the resurrection our faith in him cannot be justified; without followers faith in him would be impossible.

In the search for this explanation many formulations of faith developed: “he died for our sins;” “it was necessary for Christ to suffer and thus enter into his glory;” thus the Father’s love is shown (Rom. 8:31; John 3:16).

There are three basic soteriological schemes that try to explain the meaning of Jesus’ death: it is a sacrifice offered to God for sinners; it is a worthy satisfaction to God for human offenses; it is the redemption (release) payment to free us from the power of the devil. These were formulated in cultural contexts very different from our own and need to be reformulated to determine what they contain of normative revelation and what is cultural accretion, which today covers up rather than dis-covers the meaning.

Does speaking of salvation mean we are talking about overcoming a previous situation of perdition? What does perdition mean today in Latin America? Is it something that refers only to another life’? Does it only concern our relations with God, or has it got anything to do with inter-human relations? And what is salvation? Is it a change in the situation regarding a broken relationship in the past? Does this future have anything to do with present history, or does it merely have an eschatological dimension? Is it only of an intimately subjective order, or has it got anything to do with transforming the external world?

Both the sacrificial schema and the satisfaction schema see sin as an offense directly against God. The redemption schema sees it also as slavery in the power of the devil. The first of these schemes sees the passion as placating God and purifying humanity. The satisfaction schema sees it as the way to restore God’s blemished honor; the redemption formula sees it as the price to be paid to release a slave. There are three principal objections to these schemes: they are fundamentally sin-centered; they reduce the work of salvation to the suffering of the passion; and they are not talking about the God revealed by Jesus, the Father who appears in the gospels. Moreover, they turn human salvation into a suprahistorical drama in which humanity has no part; everything is arranged between Jesus and God. Further, reducing the saving dimension merely to the cross runs the risk of canonizing suffering, inducing passivity, and hiding the saving dimension of Jesus’ life, including his resurrection, and therefore also that of discipleship.

Nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that these schemes speak in the language used by revelation. This is because they contain a fundamental nucleus which must not be lost.

1. The sacrificial schema contains the popular insight that we have to sacrifice our life for others. Sacrifice means “make sacred, dedicate, consecrate.” This was Jesus’ life, a life consecrated to others; he offers us an alternative to the inhuman. In this life consecrated to the Kingdom we see revealed what it means to be children of God and how we should live as brothers and sisters.

2. The schema of substitute satisfaction contains the Hebrew insight of human solidarity. Properly speaking, nobody substitutes or stands in for anybody; rather, we are all involved with one another. It is not a matter of Jesus taking our place “before” God, but that he takes his proper place, which is to head (be the head) of this “great I” of salvation, in which each one of us has our own place and responsibility. He heads us, but not instead of us. He lives as the Son so that those of us who believe in him can also live as God’s children and as brothers and sisters with our fellow human beings (cf. John 1:10-13). The letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus as the “first in line,” the first of those who believe (6:20; 12:1ff). Brought to life with him, we will be his body in history so that “by his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Through his wounds we learn the damage done by power to God’s children and by money, lies, exploitation, injustice, and the law. On the other hand, we have to be clear that it is not precisely God whom we have to “satisfy” or make up to, because God lacks nothing. It is the Creator’s project for humanity and history that we have to “satisfy” (= fulfil sufficiently), because this is what is not “satisfied” in history.

3. Finally, the fundamental core of the redemption-release schema coincides with the Latin American intuition that one has to pay a price for freedom and for life; and this price can be life itself. This is what Jesus offered to release us, in pure blood, from slavery to the anti-values in which we were caught and the fear that engulfed us. The Letter to the Hebrews formulates this dimension in an interpretative synthesis which embraces both the theological and the historical: “That through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage" (Heb. 2:14f).

11.Resurrection and God’s Protest

God was absolutely dissatisfied with the death of his Son. In the last resort death resolves nothing, only life does. Hence God’s absolute and radical protest, which did not involve the death of the murderer but confirming and bringing to life his murdered Son. True protest consists in confirming life. Only this response does justice to God’s fatherhood.

The Father confirms Jesus by exalting him and placing him at the Father’s right hand; thus God confirms Jesus’ whole life (as a road to go along) and his doings (as a cause to pursue). The faith of the disciples is confirmed through the Paschal experience. Thanks to this we have witnesses, a reconstructed community, and the possibility of following Jesus. The essence of the resurrection is for it to be proclaimed. Both things require one another dialectically, and one cannot exist without the other. Without its proclamation the resurrection would only be the suprahistorical denouncement of the drama, but history with its injustice and death would remain untouched and have no exit. Without a real resurrection, its proclamation would be mere ideology.

So it is not death (suffering) that brings salvation, but the loving whole of the mystery of the Lord’s passage through our history: his life, whose consequence is death, and the resurrection, which is its fulfillment. Once again we can express this in a dialectical schema.

Life (thesis, God’s gift to humanity) is denied by death (antithesis, humanity’s response). Life is not ignored or annulled by death, but death is the consequence of a life lived in this way. This resurrection (new synthesis, God’s gift to Jesus and humanity) is the “negation of the negation.” But again this negation does not delete life and death; it confirms both. Once again we have Mark’s synthesis: Jesus of Nazareth (life), who was crucified (death), has risen (new life) to make possible his return to “Galilee” and new experience (there they will see him). The resurrection does not save Jesus from death and life; he passes through them and is saved with them. That is why the risen Christ still bears the marks of this life-and-death: the wounds of his hands and side.

But the truth about all this will only be known by those who return to Galilee to follow him.


Beneath narrative christology, which puts us formally in touch with what Jesus did, there are underlying statements that tell us formally who Jesus of Nazareth, the Liberator, is. By way of conclusion, we list them in the form of theses, or if you like, a creed.

• The final and absolute reality, which conditions all Jesus’ practice, the ultimate criterion of discernment, what is not negotiable for him, is the Kingdom of God, the Father. This absolute reference to the Father’s reign is the fount of his freedom in the face of every human mediation and proposal.

• Jesus is the Son of God in human history. It is his life and work that gives historical density to the title; he lives unconditionally referred to the Father and the Father’s project. He who is “from the beginning” in eternity, the Son, had to learn how to be this in a human manner in history (cf. Heb. 5:7 ff.). What makes him the Son in history is that he makes himself responsible for the Father’s name, the Father’s cause.

• Jesus is truly man; he is not man in the generic sense, but rather this particular man. This is the pole of the mystery of the incarnation that is immediately accessible to us. Precisely in this particular human life he is truly God. He is not a superman (like the mythological heroes), but “tempted in every respect as we are, yet without sinning” (Heb. 4:15). In this way he fully becomes the new man, the new human being.

• The titles we give him gain their reality from his life and practice. They do not say any more than this. Formulated in particular cultural circumstances, they contain a normative nucleus and a conceptual apparatus, which is in dialectical relationship with the cultural changes taking place during the course of history. Therefore these titles must be reformulated so that they go on faithfully expressing the deep reality of what Jesus continues to be for us today.

• Jesus’ whole life is a work of salvation. This characteristic is sealed definitively by his death and resurrection. It is the totality of the mystery of his passage through our history which makes total liberation possible for us, both historically and eschatologically, as a task and a gift, for “now and not yet.” We are saved not because he reveals to us a new, more demanding law than the first, but because he gives us a new capacity, a Spirit to enable us to live as children of the Father, as brothers and sisters of our fellow human beings. This is how we pursue Jesus’ cause. And this is how Jesus is fully the Liberator.

• Through his resurrection Jesus becomes “a vivifying Spirit” (I Cor. 15:45). We are integrated into him and form his body in history. The horizon of our understanding of the resurrection and incorporation into him is the hope we have for history. Only those who hope for better possibilities in history realize the definitive reality of Jesus. And the final horizon of our experience of the risen Jesus is following him by promoting his cause.

-Translated by Dinah Livingstone


1. “The New Testament feels free to speak of the experience of salvation with Jesus in a variety of ways, though in fact these differing interpretations simply articulate what has x really come into being with Jesus. This also gives us the freedom to express in a new form the experience of salvation in Jesus that we may have described in terms taken from our modern culture with its own particular problems, expectations and needs, though these in turn must also be subjected to the criticism of Israel’s expectation and to what has found fulfillment in Jesus. Moreover, we should do this in order to remain faithful to what the New Testament Christians felt to be an experience of salvation in Jesus" (E. Schillebeeck, Interim Report on the Books Jesus and Christ (New York: Crossroad, 1982), p. 16.

2. This is how Jon Sobrino formulates it: “By historical we formally mean here the practice of Jesus as that place of greater metaphysical density of his person. This practice is all activity, in deeds and words, by which it transforms the surrounding reality towards the kingdom of God and through which he creates and expresses his own person. This practice of Jesus is what gives us the best access to his person. But it has also unleashed a history which has reached us in order to be continued. Thus our present-day practice is a requirement of Jesus, but it is also the hermeneutic place for understanding Jesus” (Jon Sobrino, “Jesus de Nazaret,” in C. Floristán and J. J. Tamayo, eds., Conceptos fundamentales de pastoral [Madrid], 1983·× pp. 483 ff.).

3. The word lestes in Greek does not mean an ordinary thief, but a rioter, a rebel, a violent person. Cf. Fl. Jos., Bell. Jud. 2.254-7.

4. It is not clear whether we can speak of any of them belonging to the Zealot movement, which came later (66 C,E.). But it is very probable that some of them were sympathetic to armed resistance against the Romans and the temptation was increased at this period of apocalyptic expectations.

5. See Karl Rahner and W. Thüsing, A New Christology, trans, David Smith and Verdant Green (New York: Seabury Press, 1980).

6. Only by regarding Jesus as the guardian of Caesar’s interests (then and henceforth) can we interpret his response to the trap about paying tribute to Caesar (Mark 12:13-18) as representing approval.

Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.

Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.

The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.

Please, support our campaign
for women priests
Join our Women Priests' Mailing List
for occasional newsletters:
An email will be immediately sent to you
requesting your confirmation.