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Systematic Theology - Perspectives from Liberation Theology. The Crucified People

The Crucified People

by Ignacio Ellacuría

Chapter 15 from Systematic Theology - Perspectives from Liberation Theology
edited by Jon Sobrino, S.J. and Ignacio Ellacuria, S.J.
SCM Press Ltd 1996 pg 257-278

If we are to understand what the people of God is, it is very important that we open our eyes to the reality around us, the reality of the world in which the church has existed for almost two thousand years, since Jesus announced the approach of the Reign of God. This reality is simply the existence of a vast portion of humankind, which is literally and actually crucified by natural oppressions and especially by historical and personal oppressions. This reality prompts in the Christian spirit inescapable questions:
What does the fact that most of humankind is oppressed mean for salvation history and in salvation history?
Can we regard suffering humankind as saved in history when it continues to bear the sins of the world?
Can we regard it as savior of the world precisely because it bears the sins of the world?
What is its relationship with the church as sacrament of salvation?
Is this suffering humankind something essential when it comes time to reflect on what the people of God is and what the church is?

Posing these questions indicates the historic gravity and theological relevance of the issue. Many christological and ecclesiological topics are wrapped up in this question; in fact, we could say that we find here the whole of christology and ecclesiology in their character as historic soteriology. How is the salvation of humankind achieved starting from Jesus? Who continues in history this essential function, this saving mission that the Father entrusted to the Son? The answer to these questions can give historic flesh to the people of God, and thus avoid dehistoricizing this basic concept, and also avoid spiritualizing or ideologizing it falsely. Historic soteriology provides an essential perspective in this regard.

Historic soteriology here means something referring to salvation, as it is presented in revelation. But the accent falls on its historic character and that in a double sense: as the achievement of salvation in the one and only human history and as humankind’s active participation in that salvation, and specifically the participation of oppressed humankind. Which historically oppressed humankind it is that preeminently continues the saving work of Jesus, and the extent to which it does so, is something to be uncovered throughout this chapter. That task is one of the things required of historic soteriology and clarifies what such a soteriology must be. To begin with, it must be a soteriology whose essential reference point is the saving work of Jesus, but it must likewise be a soteriology that actualizes in history this saving work and does so as the continuation and following of Jesus and his work.

The analysis will be carried out from only one angle: the passion and death which unify the figure of Jesus with that of oppressed humankind. There are other angles but this one is essential and merits study by itself. At this point all life flows together and from it the future of history opens outward.


Here we have something required by theological method as understood in Latin American theology: any situation in history should be considered from the angle of its corresponding key in revelation, but the focus on revelation should derive from the history to which it is addressed although not any moment in history is equally valid for providing a proper focus. The first aspect seems obvious from the angle of Christian faith, even though it conceals a problem: that of finding the proper key in order not to take as the key for one situation one proper to another. The second aspect, which has a circular relationship with the previous one, is not so obvious, especially if we mean that the situation enriches and makes present the fullness of revelation, and if we mean that revelation cannot bear its fullness and its authenticity in any situation whatsoever.

In this instance we confront two crucial poles with regard to both revelation and situation. Treating them together clarifies a basic problem: the historicity of the passion of Jesus and the saving character of the crucifixion of the people. In other words, both the saving character of the salvation of Jesus and the saving character of the history of crucified humankind are clarified, once it is accepted that salvation is present in Jesus and this salvation must be worked out within humankind. Both the passion of Jesus and the crucifixion of the people are thereby enriched, and that means an enrichment of Jesus and of the people. However, that approach faces a very serious problem: making sense of the seeming failure involved in the crucifixion of a people after the definitive proclamation of salvation. Involved here is not only the failure of history, but also the direction and meaning in history for the vast majority of humankind, and even more important, the historic task of saving it.

Hence, the focus here is primarily soteriological. The accent will fall not on what Jesus and the people are, but on what they represent for the salvation of humankind. Of course we cannot separate what are called the ontological from the soteriological aspects, but we can accent one side or the other. Here the accent will be on the soteriological aspects, keeping in mind that the aim is not to reduce the being and mission of Jesus nor the being and mission of the people to the dimension of soteriology in history, although neither being nor mission in either case is properly illuminated if soteriological reflection is left aside.

If this warning is important for avoiding one-sided reflections on Jesus, which are so only if they are absolutized, it is also important for avoiding confusion about the historic task that falls to the oppressed people in their struggles in history. This task does not come down to simply that which shines out when it is likened to the passion and death of Jesus. Neither Jesus nor the crucified people, as they will be considered here, are the only salvation of history, although the salvation of history cannot reach fulfillment without both of them, even with respect to salvation in history. The former is clear and acknowledged, as long as the structural complexity of human history is taken into account; the latter is clear for believers, at least with regard to the first term, but it must be proven to nonbelievers. This should be done in such a way that their contribution to salvation is the historic verification of Christian salvation; at the same time, it should not be turned into a sweetening and mystification that would hinder the political organization of the people and their effective contribution to liberation in history.

To propose salvation on the basis of the crucifixion of Jesus and the people assumes the same scandal and madness, especially if we wish to give to salvation a content that can be verified in the reality of history, where verifiable does not mean exhaustible.

Today from a Christian standpoint it is not scandalous to say that life comes from the death of Jesus in history, even though it was indeed a scandal for those who witnessed that death and had to proclaim it. Nevertheless, we must recover that scandal and madness if we do not want to vitiate the history-making truth of the passion of Jesus. We must do that in three dimensions: with regard to Jesus himself, who only gradually was able to comprehend the true path toward proclaiming and bringing about the Reign of God; with regard to those who persecuted him to death, because they could not accept that salvation involved particular positions in history; and finally, with regard to scandal in the church, which leads the church to avoid passing through the passion when it proclaims the resurrection.

It is indeed scandalous to hold the needy and the oppressed as the salvation of the world in history. It is scandalous for many believers who no longer think they see anything striking in the proclamation that the death of Jesus brought life to the world, but who cannot accept in theory, and much less in practice, that today this life-giving death goes by way of the oppressed part of humankind. It is likewise scandalous to those who seek the liberation of humankind in history. It is easy to regard the oppressed and needy as those who are to be saved and liberated. but it is not easy to see them as saviors and liberators.

Whether or not it is a scandal to hold that the passion and crucifixion of Jesus and of the people are central for human salvation, it is clear that precisely because of its implausibility as salvation, the passion of Jesus casts light on the implausibility of the people’s crucifixion as salvation, while this latter hinders a naive or ideologized reading of the former.

On the one hand, the resurrection of Jesus and its effects in history are hope and future for those who remain in the time of passion. Certainly Jesus maintained hope in the definitive victory of God’s Reign, to which he devoted his life and for which he died. Behind Luke 22:1018 (and its parallel, Mark 14:25), despite the touching up done by the early community, we can reconstruct a double prophecy of the death of Jesus: after his death, Jesus will again celebrate the passover and will organize a banquet in the Reign of God, which of necessity must arrive. His death will not prevent the salvation to come and he himself will not remain imprisoned by death forever. Hence, as Schürmann says, the inbreaking of the Reign and Jesus’ sudden death are not to be separated. Jesus’ death is inseparably connected to the eschatological and historic coming of the Reign, and for that purpose the resurrection means not only a verification or consolation, but the assurance that this work must continue and that he remains alive to continue it.

This hope of Jesus was not of such a nature that the passion ceased being so, even to his anguished cry of abandonment on the cross. His struggle for the Reign, and his certainty that the Reign of God would triumph definitively, did not prevent him from “seeing” the connection between his personal days of tears, between the momentary failure of the coming of the Kingdom, and the glory of final victory. That is why he is an example for those who look more like the wretched of the earth than like its saviors. In being condemned personally, Jesus had to learn the road to definitive salvation - a salvation, let us repeat once more, that was essentially a matter of the coming of God’s Reign and not a personal resurrection separate from what had been his earthly preaching of the Reign.

On the other hand, the ongoing passion of the people and paralleling it the historic reign of sin as opposing the Reign of God - do not permit a reading of the death and resurrection of Jesus removed from history. The fundamental flaw in such a reading would lie in uprooting the history of the Reign of God so as to relegate it to a stage beyond history, so that it would no longer make sense to continue within history the life and mission of Jesus, who announced the Reign. That would be a betrayal of Jesus’ life and death, which was entirely devoted not to himself but to the Reign. Moreover, identifying the Reign with the resurrection of Jesus would leave unfulfilled Jesus’ message which predicted persecutions and death for those who were to continue his work. When Paul speaks of what is still wanting in the passion of Christ, he is rejecting a resurrection that ignores what is happening on earth. It is precisely the reign of sin that continues to crucify most of humankind and that obliges us to make real in history the death of Jesus as the actualized passover of the Reign of God.


An ascetic and moralizing focus on the Christian cross has nullified the importance of the cross in history and led to a rejection of everything that has to do with it. Such a rejection is fully justified if it is not simply a matter of the immature out- burst of people being liberated from their emotional fantasies. The renewal of the mystery of the cross has little to do with gratuitous repression, which places the cross where one wants it and not in its real site, as though what Jesus had sought for himself was death on the cross and not the proclamation of the Reign.

Even more dangerous is the effort to evade the history of the cross in those theologies of creation and resurrection that at most make of the cross an incident or an isolated mystery that mystically projects its efficacy over human relationships with God.

A “naturalistic” view of creation, as faith inspired as it might regard itself, is ignorant of the novelty of the Christian God revealed in salvation history. It even ignores the fact that Israel did not come to the idea of the creator God through rational reflection on the course of nature, but through theological reflection on what had happened to the chosen people. Von Rad has shown clearly that it is in the political struggles of the Exodus that Israel becomes aware that Yahweh is its savior and redeemer, that this salvation has been conceived as the creation and launching of a people, and that faith in God who creates the world is a subsequent discovery that occurs when the historic experience of the people of Israel in the failure of the Exile gradually points it toward a universalizing consciousness, which demands a universal God, creator of all humans. Hence a faith apart from history, a faith apart from historic events, whether in the life of Jesus or in the life of humankind, is not a Christian faith. It would be at best a somewhat corrected version of theism.

Neither is a position that takes its support exclusively from the faith experience of the Risen One and ignores the historic roots of the resurrection. That temptation is an ancient one, and most probably came up even in the early communities, forcing them to emphasize very soon the continuity of the Risen One with the Crucified One. Otherwise, people live with the false assumption that the struggle against sin and death is over with the triumph of the resurrection. The Reign of God again would be reduced to something in the future, which either does not require human effort (because it is imminent), or reduces the Reign to the resurrection of the dead (because it is a long way off). If the life of the Risen One victorious over death is the future of salvation for Christians and for a new humankind, as Pannenberg points out, the life of the Risen One is the same life as that of Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified for us, so that the immortal life of the Risen One is the future of salvation only insofar as we abandon ourselves to obedience to the Crucified One, who can overcome sin.

Hence, to connect creation and resurrection is false from a Christian viewpoint, whatever the understanding of the original “image and likeness,” the historic process of death and resurrection. Every process in history is a creation of the future and not merely a renewal of the past. The fallen human is not restored, but rather the new human is built up; that new human is built up in the resurrection of one who has struggled from death against sin. To put it another way, eschatological hope is expressed equally as Reign of God and as resurrection of the dead, which for Pannenberg-who is not exactly a liberation theologian-means that the Reign of God is not possible as a community of human beings in perfect peace and total justice, without a radical change of the natural conditions that are present in human life, a change that is called the resurrection of the dead. He also says that the individual destiny and the political destiny of human beings go hand in hand.

Thus, the resurrection points back toward the crucifixion: the Crucified One rises, and rises because he was crucified; since his life was taken away for proclaiming the Reign, he receives a new life as fulfillment of the Reign of God. Thus, the resurrection points back toward the passion, and the passion points toward Jesus’ life as proclaimer of the Reign. As is well-known, that is the sequence followed in putting the gospels together. The need to historicize the experience of the Risen One leads to a reflection on the passion story, which occupies a disproportionately large space in the gospel accounts, and which, in turn, requires historical justification in the narration of the life of Jesus. In any case, the gospels as a whole seek to give theological weight to two facts that are part of a single reality: the fact of Jesus’ failure in the scandal of his death, and the fact of the persecution that the early communities soon undergo.

Hence, this is not an expiatory masochism of a spiritualizing sort, but the discovery of something real in history. It is not a matter of grief and mortification, but of making a break and a commitment. Jesus’ death makes it clear why really proclaiming salvation runs up against the resistance of the world, and why the Reign of God does combat with the reign of sin. That is made manifest both in the death of the prophet, the one sent by God, and in the ravaging and death of humankind at the hands of those who make themselves gods, lording it over humankind. If a spiritualizing approach to the passion leads to an evasion of that commitment to history that leads to persecution and death, a historic commitment to the crucified people makes it necessary to examine the theological meaning of this death, and thus, to go back to the redeeming passion of Jesus. Reflecting historically on the death of Jesus helps us to reflect theologically on the death of the oppressed people, and the latter points back toward the former.


1. Historic Necessity of Jesus’ Death

We may admit that the death of Jesus and the crucifixion of the people are necessary, but only if we speak of a necessity in history and not a merely natural necessity. It is precisely their nature as historic necessity that clarifies the deep reality of what happens in history, at the same time as it opens the way toward transforming history. That would not be the case if we were dealing with a merely natural necessity.

The scriptures themselves point out this necessity when they try to justify the passion of Jesus, and they even formulate it as a kind of principle: “Did not the Messiah have to undergo all this so as to enter into his glory?” (Luke 24:36). But this “having to” undergo “so as to” reach fulfillment is a historical “having to.” It is historic not because the prophets had announced it, but because the prophets prefigured the events in what happened to them. Through what happened to the prophets, this necessity is grounded in the opposition between the proclamation of the Reign and the fact that sin is obviously a reality in history. The resistance of the oppressive powers and the struggle for liberation in history brought them persecution and death, but this resistance and struggle were simply the consequence in history of a life in response to God’s word. That long experience, explicitly recalled by Jesus, leads to the conclusion that in our historic world arriving at the glory of God requires passing through persecution and death. The reason could not be clearer: If the Reign of God and the reign of sin are two opposed realities, and human beings of flesh and blood are the standard bearers of both, then those who wield the power of oppressive domination cannot but exercise it against those who have only the power of their word and their life, offered for the salvation of many.

Hence, this is not the biological image of a seed dying in order to bear fruit, nor of a dialectical law that demands undergoing death in order to reach new life. Of course, there are scripture texts that speak of the need for the seed to die; these texts point toward the necessity and the dialectical movement of this necessity, but they do not make it “natural.” Making it natural would entail both eliminating the responsibility of those who kill prophets and those who crucify humankind, thereby veiling the aspect of sin in historic evil; it would also imply that the new life could emerge without the activity of human beings, who would not need to be converted internally or to rebel against what is outside. It is true that biological images of the Reign sometimes emphasize how the growth is God’s affair, but we cannot, thereby, conclude that human beings should cease caring for the field of history.

Necessity in history, on the other hand, forces us to emphasize the determining causes of what happens. Theologically speaking, the fundamental cause is expressed countless times to scripture: passing from death to glory is necessary only given the fact of sin, a sin that takes possession of the human heart, but especially a sin in history that collectively rules over the world and over peoples. There is, in Moingt’s phrase, a “theological and collective sin,” and it is to that sin that the proclamation of the death of Christ for our sins refers, not directly to our individual and ethical sins; it is a “collective reality,” grounding and making possible individual sins. It is this theological and collective sin that destroys history and hinders the future that God wanted for history; this collective sin is what causes death to reign over the world, and hence, we must be freed from our collective work of death in order to form once more the people of God. It is Moingt himself who goes so far as to say that redemption is simultaneously “the political liberation of the people and their conversion to God.”

This historic necessity differs in its relationship to death and to glory: it is necessary to go through death to reach glory, but glory need not follow death. There is one attitude for struggling against death and another for receiving life. In both cases, there is something external to the individual human being. The evil of the world, the sin of the world, is not simply the sum of particular individual actions, nor are these foreign to this sin that dominates them; likewise, the forgiveness and transformation of the world are things that human beings initially receive so as to then offer their own contribution. The external aspect is different in the case of evil and of good, of sin and grace; sin is the work of human beings, and grace is God’s work, although it is something that operates within and through human beings, and thus, there is no question of passivity. Although God gives the growth, the effort of human beings is not excluded but in fact is required, especially for destroying the objective embodiment of sin, and then for building up the objective embodiment of grace. Otherwise, necessity would not have any historic character but would be purely natural, and the human being would be either the absolute negation of God or a mere executor of presumably divine designs.

The “necessary” character of Jesus’ death is seen only after the fact. Neither his disciples nor he himself saw in the beginning and not through reflection on scripture, that the proclamation and victory of the Reign had to go by way of death. When it happened, the surprised minds of the believers found in Gods designs, manifested in the words and deeds of the scriptures Moses and the prophets Yahweh the signs of the divine will that made death “necessary.”

This “necessity” is not based on notions of expiation and sacrifice. In fact, when the Servant of Yahweh in Deutero-Isaiah is used to explain the meaning of the death of Jesus, the thread of discourse is not “sin-offense-victim-expiation-forgiveness.” This framework, which may have some validity for particular mindsets and which expresses some valid points, may turn into an evasion of what must be done in history in order to eliminate the sin of the world. In times when consciences were oppressed or felt oppressed by a Christianity centered on the idea of sin, of guilt and of eternal condemnation, it was utterly necessary that there be a framework of forgiveness, in which a God offended forgave sin and wiped out condemnation. But even with its valid points this framework does not emphasize either the collective embodiment of sin or human activity-destroying injustice and building love-which are “necessary” in history. A new theology of sin must move beyond the expiatorial frameworks but should not permit the existence of sin itself to be forgotten. To forget it would, among other things, leave the field open to the forces of oppression, which are overwhelmingly dominant in our world, and it would also neglect the area of personal conversion.

2. Implications

Emphasizing the historic character of the death of Jesus is fundamental for Christology and for a history-engaged soteriology, which as such would take on a new meaning.

The historic character of the death of Jesus entails, to begin with, that his death took place for historic reasons. New christologies are increasingly emphasizing this point. Jesus dies - is killed as both the four gospels and Acts so insist - because of the historic life he led, a life of deeds and words that those who represented and held the reins of the religious, socioeconomic and political situation could not tolerate. That he was regarded as a blasphemer, one who was destroying the traditional religious order, one who upset the social structure, a political agitator, and so forth, is simply to recognize from quite distinct angles that the activity, word, and very person of Jesus in the proclamation of the Reign were so assertive and so against the established order and basic institutions that they had to be punished by death. Dehistoricizing this radical reality leads to mystical approaches to the problem, not by way of deepening but by way of escape.

We cannot simply settle the matter of the “died for our sins” by means of the expiatory victim, thereby leaving the direction of history untouched. It likewise implies that Jesus followed a particular direction in history not because it would lead to death or because he was seeking a redemptive death, but rather because that was what truly proclaiming the Reign of God demanded. Whether the emphasis be on the soteriological character of Jesus’ death, as in Paul, or on the soteriological character of the resurrection, as in Luke, it cannot be forgotten that the historic Jesus sought for himself neither death nor resurrection but the proclamation of the Reign of God to the point of death, and that brought resurrection. Jesus saw that his action was leading to a mortal showdown with those who could take his life, and it is utterly inconceivable that he did not realize that he was probably going to die, and even soon, and realize why this was so.

Indeed, he was aware earlier and better of the saving value - in a broad sense - of his person and his life than of the saving value of his death. He does not begin by focus" ing his activity on waiting for death but on the proclamation of the Reign; even when he sees death as a real possibility, he does not hesitate in that proclamation or shrink back from his conflict with power. Putting all the saving value on his death cannot be reconciled with his life and his demands of his disciples; it cannot be said that there is in him a gradual shift from life to death as the center of his message, since ever in the many texts about following him being difficult and contradictory, the accent is on the continuity of life with death and not on the break of death with regard to the way of salvation that his life represents.
Salvation, therefore, cannot be made exclusively a matter of the mystical fruits of the death of Jesus, separating it from his real and verifiable behavior. It is not merely a passive and obedient acceptance of a natural fate, let alone a fate imposed by the Father. It is, at least in a first level, an action that leads to life by way of death, in such a way that in the case of Jesus what is salvific cannot be separated from what is historic. Consequently, Jesus’ death is not the end of the meaning of his life, but the end of that pattern that must be repeated and followed in new lives with the hope of resurrection and thereby the seal of exaltation. Jesus’ death is the final meaning of his life only because the death toward which his life led him shows what was likewise the historic meaning and the theological meaning of his life. It is, thus, his life that provides the ultimate meaning of his death, and only as a consequence does his death, which has received its initial meaning from his life, give meaning to his life. Therefore, his followers should not focus primarily on death as sacrifice, but on the life of Jesus, which will only really be his life if it leads to the same consequences as his life did.

Historic soteriology is a matter of seeking where and how the saving action of Jesus was carried out in order to pursue it in history. Of course, in one sense, the life and death of Jesus is over and done, since what took place in them is not simply a mere fact whose value is the same as that of any other death that might take place in the same circumstances, but was, indeed, the definitive presence of God among human beings. But his life and this death continue on earth and not just in heaven; the uniqueness of Jesus is not in his standing apart from humankind, but in the definitive character of his person and in the. saving all-presence that is his. All the insistence on his role as head to a body, and on the sending of his Spirit, through whom his work is to be continued, point toward this historic current of his earthly life. The continuity is not purely mystical and sacramental, just as his activity on earth was not purely mystical and sacramental. In other words, worship, including the celebration of the eucharist, is not the whole of the presence and continuity of Jesus; there must be a continuation in history that carries out what he carried out in his life and as he carried it out. We should acknowledge a trans-historic dimension in Jesus’ activity, as we should acknowledge it in his personal biography, but this trans-historic dimension will only be real if it is indeed trans-historic, that is, if it goes through history. Hence, we must ask who continues to carry out in history what his life and death was about.

3. The Crucified People, Principle of Universal Salvation

We can approach the question by taking into account that there is a crucified people, whose crucifixion is the product of actions in history. Establishing that may not be enough to prove that this crucified people is the continuation in history of the life and death of Jesus. But before delving into other aspects which prove that such is the case, it is well to take the same starting point as that of the saving value of the death and life of Jesus.

What is meant by crucified people here is that collective body, which as the majority of humankind owes its situation of crucifixion to the way society is organized and maintained by a minority that exercises its dominion through a series of factors, which taken together and given their concrete impact within history, must be regarded as sin. This is not a purely individual way of looking at every person who suffers even due to unjust actions by others or because such a person is immolated in the struggle against the prevailing injustice. Although looking collectively at the crucified people does not exclude an individual perspective, the latter is subsumed in the former, since that is its historic context. Nor is the viewpoint here one of looking at purely natural misfortunes, although natural evils play a role, albeit derivatively, insofar as they take place in a particular order within history.

Not only is it not foreign to scripture to regard a collective body as subject of salvation, but that is in fact its primordial thrust. For example, as J. Jeremias points out, an individual can only become a servant of Yahweh insofar as he or she is a member of the people of Israel, since salvation is offered primarily to the people and within the people. The communal experience that the root of individual sins is in a presence of a supra-individual sin and that each one’s life is shaped by the life of the people in which he or she lives, makes it connatural to experience that both salvation and perdition are played out primarily in this collective dimension. The modern concern to highlight the individual side of human existence will be faithful to reality only if it does not ignore its social dimension. That is not the case in the individualistic and idealistic frenzied individualism and idealism that is so characteristic of Western culture, or at least of its elites. All the selfishness and social irresponsibility borne by this notion is but the reverse proof of how false this exaggeration is. There is no need to deny the collective and structural dimension in order to give scope to the full development of the person.

From a theological standpoint, this assertion is not arbitrary, and it is even less so in terms of the real situation. It is something obvious in historical experience now viewed from the standpoint of soteriology. One who is concerned as a believer for the sin and salvation of the world cannot but realize that in history humanity is crucified in this concrete form of the crucified people; by the same token one who reflects as a believer on the mangled reality of this crucified people must inquire what there is of sin and need for salvation here. In view of this situation, which is so extensive and so serious, considering the particular cases of those who do not belong to the crucified people becomes quite a secondary matter, although we should here repeat that the universalist and structural approach by no means has to do away with the individualistic and psychological approach, but simply provides it with a framework rooted in reality. What Christian faith adds after it is really clear that there is a crucified people is the suspicion that, besides being the main object of the effort of salvation, it might also in its very crucified situation be the principle of salvation for the whole world.

This is not the place to determine the extent and the nature of the ongoing oppression of the bulk of humankind today or to carry out a detailed study of its causes. Although it is one of the fundamental realities that should serve as a starting point for theological reflection, and although it has been scandalously ignored by those who theorize from the geographical world of the oppressors, it is so obvious and wide’spread that it needs no explanation. What it does need is to be lived experientially.

Now although there are undeniably “natural” elements in the present situation of injustice that defines our world, there is also undeniably a side that derives from actions in history. Just as in the case of Jesus, we cannot speak of a purely natural necessity, so the oppression of the crucified people derives from a necessity in history: the necessity that many suffer so a few may enjoy, that many be dispossessed so that a few may possess. Moreover, the repression of the people’s vanguards follows the same pattern as the case of Jesus, although with different meanings.

This general formulation should be made in historic terms. It does not happen everywhere in the same way or for the same reasons, since the general pattern of the oppression of humans by humans takes on very different forms both collectively and individually. In our universal situation today, oppression has some overall characteristics in history that cannot be ignored, and those who do not take a stand on the side of liberation are culpable, whether actively or passively.

Thus, within this collective and overall framework more specific analysis must be carried out. While maintaining the universal pattern of people crucifying others in order to live themselves, the subsystems of crucifixion that exist in both groups, oppressors and oppressed, should also be examined. As has often been pointed out, in a number of ways among the oppressed themselves, some put themselves at the service of the oppressors or give free rein to their impulses to dominate. This serious problem forces us to get beyond simplistic formulas with regard to both the causes of oppression and to its forms, so as not to fall into a Manichean division of the world, which would situate all good in the world on one side and all evil on the other. It is precisely a structural way of looking at the problem that enables us to avoid the error of seeing as good all the individuals on one side and as evil those on the other side, thus leaving aside the problem of personal transformation. Flight from one’s own death in a continual looking out for oneself and not acknowledging that we gain life when we surrender it to others, is no doubt a temptation that is permanent and inherent in the human being, one that structures and history modulate but do not abolish.

The focus on the death of Jesus and the crucifixion of the people, the fact that they refer back and forth to each other, makes both take on a new light. The crucifixion of the people avoids the danger of mystifying the death of Jesus, and the death of Jesus avoids the danger of extolling salvifically the mere fact of the crucifixion of the people, as though the brute fact of being crucified of itself were to bring about resurrection and life. We must shed light on this crucifixion out of what Jesus was in order to see the salvific scope and the Christian nature of this salvation. To that end we must examine the principles of life, that are intermingled with the principles of death; although the presence of sin and death is overwhelming in human history, the presence of grace and of life is also very prominent and palpable. We must not lose sight of either aspect. Indeed, salvation can only be understood as a victory of life over death, a victory already announced in the resurrection of Jesus, but one that must be won in a process of following his steps.


One of the approaches on which the primitive Christian community fastened in order to understand Jesus’ death, and give it its adequate value, was the figure of the Servant of Yahweh as described in Second Isaiah. This entitles us to appeal once more to the Suffering Servant in order to see what, in one of its aspects, the death of Jesus was, and especially what, in one of its aspects, the crucifixion of the people is.

Thus, this section will have three parts. In the first, we shall list some of the characteristics of the Servant as proposed in Second Isaiah. In the second part, we shall align these characteristics with the concrete reality of Jesus’ life and death. Finally, in the third part of this section, we shall draw up a corresponding list of what are or ought to be the characteristics of the oppressed people if they are to be the extension of Jesus’ redemptive work. The first two parts will be orientated toward the third: thus, even if we do not manage to show that the oppressed people are the historical extension of the crucifixion, and of the Crucified one, at all events we shall have indicated the route to be followed if that people is to conform its death with that of Christ-keeping account, meanwhile, of the distinction between the two realities, and of the different functions incumbent upon each.

1. Characteristics of the Servant of Yahweh

We shall make our analysis of the afflicted servant of Yahweh from the outlook of the crucified people. Any reading is done from a situation-more than from a pre-understanding, which is in some sort determined by the situation. Those who claim to be able to do a neutral reading of a text of scripture commit a twofold error. First, they commit an epistemological error: they attempt to do a nonconditioned reading, which is impossible. And they commit a theological error: they neglect the richest locus of any reading, which will always be the principal addressee of the text in question. This addressee is different at each historical moment, and the hypothesis with which we are working is that at this particular moment,of ours the addressee of the Songs of the Servant is the crucified people-a hypothesis that will be confirmed if indeed the text sheds light on what the crucified people are; and if, conversely, the text is enriched, and endowed with currency, by the reality that is this historical addressee. This is not the place for a discussion of the epistemological and theological justification of this methodological procedure-which does not exclude the most careful utilization of exegetical analyses, but only subordinates them. Suffice it to have enunciated this procedure in order not to go astray in our analysis of the text at hand.

Our analysis will prescind from whether the “servant” is a collective or individual personage, a king or a prophet, and so on. None of this is relevant for our purpose, since what we formally intend here is to see what the text says to the oppressed people - what the text declares to this historical addressee. What we propose, of course, is not an exhaustive treatment, but an indication of the basic lines of the text in question.

The theology of the Servant proposes that the encounter with Yahweh occurs in history, and that that encounter thus becomes the locus both of Yahweh’s intimate presence with the people, and of the people’s response and responsibility (Joachim Jeremias). The unity prevailing between what occurs in history and what God seeks to manifest and communicate to human beings is, in the text of Second Isaiah, indissoluble. We need only recall the references we find in that text to the humiliation of Babylon, or to the triumph of Cyrus, in order to have overwhelming proof of this. This is the context in which the four Songs of the Suffering Servant must be read.

The First Song (Isa. 42:1-7) speaks of the election of the Servant. He is a chosen one, a favorite of Yahweh: upon him God has placed his spirit. The finality of this election is explicitly proclaimed: “He shall bring forth justice to the nations.” Indeed, not content with this quite explicit formulation. the sacred writer emphasizes and amplifies it:

A bruised reed he shall not break,
and a smoldering wick he shall not quench,
Until he establishes justice on the earth;
the coastlands will wait for his teaching.

In question, accordingly, is an objective implantation of right - especially, of justice in the real, concrete sense of justice to be done to an oppressed people. It is a matter of creating laws in which justice, rather than the interests of the mighty, has the pre-eminence (although account is also kept of the need for an interiorization of the love of justice). That is, what is at stake is the appearance on the scene of a new human being, who would actually live, and experience, right and justice. Likewise, there is a universal gaze upon the nations and the “coastland”- that is, a purely Judaic ambit is transcended. Finally, all of this will be God’s response to that which peoples deprived of justice and right await, what they hope for - a response to be implanted by the Servant, who will never waver or be shaken in his mission.

The election, the choice, is God’s. Political as the Servant’s mission may appear in its first stage (there is no talk of restoring worship, converting sinners, or the like, but only of the implantation of right), this is what is wanted by that God who “created the heavens and stretched them out,” by the God who consolidated the earth. After all, it is that God who has chosen the Servant in order to cause justice to be, in order to do justice:

I, the Lord, have called you for the victory of justice,
I have grasped you by the hand;
I formed you, and set you
as a covenant of the people,
a light for the nations. (NAB 2:6)

And the Song repeats, with explanation, what it is to do justice:

To open the eyes of the blind,
to bring out prisoners from confinement,
and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness. (42:7)

And thus says the Lord, for “Lord” is his name: that is, this is how his being for created persons is expressed, in this is his proclamation of a future in contrast to what has been occurring, The Second Song underscores the nature of this election by God. God has chosen someone whom the mighty despise, who seemingly lacks the strength to have justice reign over the world, and who nevertheless, has God’s backing and support:

Yet my reward is with the Lord, my recompense is with my God . . .
Thus says the Lord, the redeemer and the Holy One of Israel,
To the one despised, whom the nations abhor, the slave of rulers;
When kings see you, they shall stand up,
and princes shall prostrate themselves
Because of the Lord who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel who has chosen you. (49:4, 7)

The purpose of the election is the building of a new land and a new people: “To restore the land and allot the desolate heritages” (49:8). The people will emerge from their state of poverty, oppression, and darkness into a new state of abundance, liberty, and light. And the reason for God’s intervention through his servant is clear:

For the Lord comforts his people
and shows mercy to his afflicted. (49:13)

This notion, that God is on the side of the oppressed, and against the oppressor, is fundamental in the text, and refers to an entire people, and not merely to particular individuals:

I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with the juice of the grape.
All humankind shall know
that I, the Lord, am your savior,
your redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob. (49:26)

The Third Song takes a new step, setting in relief the potential importance of suffering in the people’s march toward liberation. The long experience of being crushed can lead to a shattered confidence, of course, but the Lord means to sup- port that suffering, and put an end to it, giving victory to someone seemingly confounded and routed:

The Lord God is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced [*do not feel the outrages];
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame. (50:7)

A great hope arises, a hope bearing on the future of the afflicted and persecuted. The suffering of these is not in vain. God stands behind them. And this is a hope which they shall touch with their hands, and which will transform their lives altogether:

Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy;
They will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee. (51:11)

But it is the Fourth Song that most explicitly and extensively develops the theme of the Servant’s passion and glory. Here the rhetorical figure of contraposition is employed, strikingly, in order to focus the Servant’s real situation, and concrete capacity for salvation:

See, my servant shall prosper,
he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.
Even as many were amazed at him -
so marred was his look beyond that of man,
and his appearance beyond that of mortals
So shall he startle many nations,
because of him kings shall stand speechless;
For those who have not been told shall see,
those who have not heard shall ponder it: (52:1315)

It is here that the description of the persecution of the Servant in his mission of “implanting right” acquires characteristics very similar to those that the oppressed people suffer today:

He grew up like a sapling before him,
like a shoot from the parched earth;
There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him,
nor appearance that would attract us to him.
He was spurned and avoided by men,
a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity,
One of those from whom men hide their faces,
spurned, and we held him in no esteem.

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured,
While we thought of him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
But the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.

Though he was harshly treated, he submitted
and opened not his mouth . . .
Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away,
and who would have thought any more of his destiny?

When he was cut off from the land of the living,
and smitten for the sin of his people,
A grave was assigned him among the wicked
and a burial place with evildoers,
Though he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood.

If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him.,
Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days.
Through his suffering my servant shall justify many and their guilt he shall bear.
Therefore I will give him his portion among the great,
and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
Because he surrendered himself to death
and was counted among the wicked;
And he shall take away the sins of many,
and win pardon for their offenses. (53:2-12)

This text, which is fundamental for any salvation theology, any soteriology, admits of various readings, since it can elucidate different problems. In the problem at hand, it is impossible to ignore the applicability of the description in the text to what is occurring today among the crucified people. A reading that has become traditional sees a prefiguration of Jesus’ passion here. But this is no reason why we should shut our eyes to the element of concrete description - all “scriptural accommodation’ notwithstanding - of what is today a vast majority of humanity. From this outlook, we may underscore certain historicotheological moments in this impressive Song.

In the first place, the personage we contemplate is a figure shattered by the concrete, historical intervention of human beings. We have a person of sorrows here, someone accustomed to suffering, who is carried off to death in helplessness and injustice. Scorned and contemned by all, he is someone in whom there is no visible merit.

In the second place, not only is this figure not regarded as a potential savior of the world, but, quite the contrary, he is regarded as someone who might have leprosy, someone sentenced to death, someone wounded by God, someone brought low, and humiliated.

In the third place, he appears as a sinner - as the fruit of sin and as filled with sins. Accordingly, he was given burial with the wicked, and with evildoers. He has been reckoned among sinners, because he took upon himself the burden of the sin of so many.

In the fourth place, the believer’s view of things is a different view. The Servant’s state is not due to his own sins. He suffers sin without having committed it. He has been pierced for our rebellions and crushed for our crimes - wounded for the sins of the people. He has taken on sins that he has not committed: thus, he is in his desperate situation because of the sins of others. Antecedently to his dying for sins, it is sins who have carried him off to death. It is sins that kill him.

In the fifth place, the Servant accepts this lot, this destiny. He accepts the fact that it is the weight of sins that is bearing him off to death, although he has not committed them. By reason of the sins of others, for the sins of others, he accepts his own death. The Servant will justify so many, because he has taken their crimes on himself. Our punishment has fallen on him, and his scars have healed us. His death, far from being meaningless and ineffective, removes, provisionally, the sins that had been afflicting the world. His death is expiation, and intercession for sins.

In the sixth place, the Servant himself, crushed in his sacrificed life and in the failure of death, triumphs. Not only will others see themselves justified, but he will see his offspring and will live long years. He will see light, and be satiated with knowledge.

In the seventh place, it is the Lord himself who adopts this condition. God takes our crimes on himself. Indeed, we read that the Lord actually wished to crush the Servant with suffering, and deliver his life over in expiation for sin, although afterwards he will reward him, and give him complete recompense. This is very strong language. But it admits of the interpretation that God accepts as having been wished by himself, as salutary, the sacrifice of someone who has concretely died for reason of the sins of human beings. Only in a difficult act of faith is the sacred writer able to discover, in the Songs of the Servant, that which seems to the eyes of history to be the complete opposite. Precisely because he sees someone burdened with sins that he has not committed, and crushed by their consequences, the singer of these songs makes bold, by virtue of the very injustice of the situation, to ascribe all of this to God: God must necessarily attribute a fully salvific value to this act of absolute concrete injustice. And the attribution can be made because the Servant himself accepts his destiny to save, by his own suffering, those who are actually the causes of it.

Finally, the comprehensive orientation of this Fourth Song, together with that of the three that have preceded - their prophetic sense of a proclamation of the future, and their ambit of universality - prevent a univocal determination of the Servant’s historical concretion. The Suffering Servant of Yahweh will be anyone who discharges the mission described in the Songs - and, par excellence, will be the one discharging it in more comprehensive fashion. Or better, the Suffering Servant of Yahweh will be anyone unjustly crucified for the sins of human beings, because all of the crucified form a single unit, one sole reality, even though this reality has a head and members with different functions in the unity of expiation.

. For all the accentuation of the traits of suffering and seeming failure, the hope of triumph emerges paramount. And it is a hope, let us not forget, that must have a public, concrete character, and a relationship with the implantation of right and justice. No “substitutive” elements it may have militate against its historical reality and effectiveness.

2. Life and Death of Jesus, and the Servant of Yahweh

Before any Christian interpretation of the Suffering Servant had come to be, this figure had already been set in relationship with that of the Messiah. One line of theological reflection saw that the triumph of the Messiah would come only after a passage through pain and suffering, and this precisely because of the existence of sin. It is impossible to ignore the fact that Second Isaiah itself, which so strongly emphasizes Yahweh’s love for the people, places harsh reproaches in the mouth of God when it comes to that people’s wicked behavior. The mystery of sin and evil continues to make its way toward integration into a more complete interpretation of God’s activity in history.
The New Testament does not teem with explicit references to the Servant of Yahweh. The title, pais Theou, appears only once in Matthew (12:15) and four times in Acts (3:13-26, 4:2730). However, the theology of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, along lines of suffering and oblation for sins, is of prime importance in the New Testament for the attempt undertaken there to present a theological explanation of the historical fact of Jesus’ death. The almost complete disappearance. of the term may be attributed to the fact that the Hellenistic communities very soon began to prefer the title, “Son of God,” to that of “servant of God,” which they less readily assimilated. For Joachim Jeremias, the christological interpretation of the Servant of Yahweh of Second Isaiah belongs to the earliest Christian communities, and corresponds to the Palestinian, pre-Hellenistic stage. Cullmann maintains that the christology of the Servant is probably the oldest christology of all.
However, it is not the common opinion of exegetes that Jesus himself was aware of being the Servant of Yahweh spoken of in Second Isaiah. We need not enter into this discussion here, since our concern is to emphasize that the primitive community justifiably saw the theological background of the Suffering Servant in the historical events of the life of Jesus, so that, without being explicitly aware of it, Jesus will have carried out the Servant’s mission. It might be objected that the concrete events narrated in the gospels are only the historical flesh placed by the primitive communities on the framework of their theological thought concerning the Servant, in order to historicize that thought. But even in that case - which does not seem, across the board, to represent an acceptable explanation - we would be satisfied with this acknowledgment of the need for a historicization of salvation and of the manner of salvation. If, on the other hand, Jesus himself was aware that he was the full realization of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, obviously he did not have this consciousness from the beginning of his life, or even from the commencement of his public life; from which we must again conclude that only his real, concrete life of proclamation of the Reign and of opposition to the enemies of the Reign led him to an acceptance, in faith and hope, of the salvific destiny of the Servant: in both Jesus and the Servant, the struggle with sin came before death for and by sin.
On the face of it, it is difficult to admit that Jesus publicly and solemnly manifested the notion that his death was to have a salvific scope (Schürmann). Jesus’ preaching and behavior are not orientated toward his future death, and do not depend upon it (Marxsen). A more difficult question is whether he did communicate the salvific meaning of his death to his closest disciples, at least on the eve of his passion, if not indeed when they were sent on the mission of announcing the Reign. In order to answer this question, we should of course have had to be present at the Last Supper. We cannot enter in depth into this question here, but we can rely on exegetes’ intermediate positions, between Jeremias’ literal positivism and Bultmann’s historical skepticism. Schürmann, after a lengthy exegetical analysis, concludes as follows. The deeds of offering of someone who is going to die and who proclaims eschatological salvation are best explained in a soteriological perspective. In these deeds of the Servant performed by Jesus, eschatological salvation becomes comprehensible in the symbolic activity of someone willing to give the gift of self to the very hilt, to very death as a culmination of all of that person’s life, which in turn has ever been a pro-existence - that is, it has always been a life defined by its total commitment to others. An acknowledgement, after the Resurrection, of the salvific value of Jesus’ death was possible only on the basis of Jesus’ pro-existent attitude, as solemnly expressed in the actions of the Last Supper and as reconsidered in the light of the scriptures, especially in the light of the Suffering Servant. It came to be seen that Jesus’ death was necessary, that it was conformable to the scriptures, that it had a salvific value for those who had followed him and that that value could be extended to the sins of the many.
Running counter to a full self-understanding, in terms of his death, on the part of Jesus himself, however, is his cry on the cross as reported by Matthew (27:26) and Mark (15:35), which seems to indicate an absolute abandonment by God, and consequently a failing in Jesus’ faith and hope. The difficulty presented by this text is so grave that the other evangelists substitute words of trust (Luke 23:46-47) or consummation (John 19:30). Indeed, since it is possible to see, in Jesus’ words of abandonment, the first words of Psalm 22, which ends with words of hope similar to those of the Song of the Servant, we cannot be certain that the tenor and sense of the words placed on Jesus’ lips by Matthew and Mark is one of dereliction by God. For Xavier Léon-Dufour, Jesus intended to express his state of dereliction, his condition of abandonment, that is death, a death which in and of itself is separation from the living God.
However, the experience of abandonment is simultaneously proclaimed and denied in a dialogue expressing the presence of the one who seems absent-a dialogue that abides uninterrupted, even though God seems to have disappeared. Jesus calls Yahweh not “Father,” but - the only time he does so in the Synoptics "God." All of this arouses the suspicion that the “Why have you forsaken me” remains without immediate response, which will only appear after his death, and which the evangelists posit in the voice of the centurion: “Clearly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).
Consequently, although Jesus would not have had an explicit awareness of the complete meaning of his death, he would have had the firm hope that his life and death were the immediate announcement of the Reign - in other words, that the definitive coming of the Reign was through his life and his death, between which a continuity must be accepted, so that his death was but the culmination of his life, the definitive moment of his total surrender and commitment to the proclamation and the realization of the Reign. And all of this to the point that the sacrificial and expiatory meaning of the sufferings of the Suffering Servant would be more clear than that of Jesus’ death. Only later would that death come to be understood as that of the universal victim of the sins of the world.
Obviously, the crucified people is not explicitly conscious of being the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, but as in the case of Jesus, that is not a reason to deny that it is.
Nor would the fact that Jesus is the Suffering Servant be such a reason, since the crucified people would be his continuation in history, and thus, we would not be talking of “another” servant. Hence, it would be sufficient to show that the crucified people combines some essential conditions of the Suffering Servant to show that the people constitute the most adequate site for the embodiment of the Servant, even if that is not true in all its fullness.
If it is acknowledged that Jesus’ passion is to be continued in history, it should also be acknowledged that in order to be historical that continuity can take on different shapes. Leaving aside individual figures, that is, the need for Jesus to con-, tinue in each of his followers, the continuation in history by the people should also take on different shapes. In other words, we cannot say once and for all who constitutes the collective subject that most fully carries forward Jesus’ redeeming work. It can be said that it will always be the crucified people of God, but as corrected as it is, that statement leaves undefined who that people of God is, and it cannot be understood simply as the official church even as the persecuted church. Not everything called church is simply the crucified people or the Suffering Servant of Yahweh, although correctly understood this crucified people may be regarded as the most vital part of the church, precisely because it continues the passion and death of Jesus.
This historicity does not mean that we cannot come to an approximation of the present-day figure of the Servant. It might vary in different historic situations, and it might represent the Servant’s fundamental traits under different aspects, but it would not thereby cease to have certain basic characteristics. The most basic is that it be accepted as the Servant by God; that acceptance, however, cannot be established except through its “likeness” to what happened to the Jesus who was crucified in history. Therefore, it will have to be crucified for the sins of the world, it will have to have become what the worldly have cast out, and its appearance will.. not be human precisely because it has been dehumanized; it will have to have a high degree of universality, since it will have to be a figure that redeems the whole world; it will have to suffer this utter dehumanization, not for its sins but because it bears the sins of others; it will have to be cast out and despised precisely as savior of the world, in such a way that this world does not accept it as its savior, but on the contrary judges it as the most complete expression of what must be avoided and even condemned; and finally, there must be a connection between its passion and the working out of the Reign of God.
On the other hand, this historic figure of the Servant is not to be identified with any particular organization of the crucified people whose express purpose is to achieve political power. Of course, the salvation promised to the historic mission of the Servant of Yahweh must be embodied in history, and such historic embodiment must be achieved through an organizing process that if it is to be fully liberating, must be intimately connected with the crucified people. But the aspect through which the crucified people - and not a purely undifferentiated peoplebrings salvation to the world, continuing the work of Jesus, is not the same as that by which it effects this salvation in historic and political terms.
In other words, the crucified people transcends any embodiment in history that may take place for the sake of its salvation in history, and this transcending is due to the fact that it is the continuation in history of a Jesus who did not carry out his struggle for the Reign through political power. The fact that it transcends, however, does not mean that it can be isolated from any embodiment in history, for the Reign of God entails the achievement of a political order, wherein human beings live in covenant in response to God’s covenant.
The crucified people thus remains somewhat imprecise insofar as it is not identified, at least formally, with a specific group in history-at least in all the specific features of a group in history. Nevertheless, it is precise enough so as not to be confused with what cannot represent the historic role of the Suffering Servant of Yahweh. To mention some examples with two sides: the First World is not in this line and the Third World is; the rich and oppressive classes are not and the oppressed classes are; those who serve oppression are not, no matter what they undergo in that service, and those who struggle for justice and liberation are. The Third World, the oppressed classes, and those who struggle for justice, insofar as they are Third World, oppressed class and people who struggle for justice, are in the line of the Suffering Servant, even though not everything they do is necessarily done in the line of the Servant. Indeed, as was noted at the beginning of this chapter, these three levels must by necessity develop-although we cannot here go into studying the ways this takes place - into some embodiments that are strictly political and others that are not formally political. though they are engaged in history.
This likening of the crucified people to the Servant of Yahweh is anything but gratuitous. If we can see common basic features in both, there is moreover the fact that Jesus identified himself with those who suffer-or that was the view of the early Christian community. That is, of course, true of those who suffer for his name or for the Reign, but it is also true of those who suffer unaware that their suffering is connected to the name of Jesus and the proclamation of his Reign. This identification is expressed most precisely in Matthew 25:31-46, and indeed, that passage appears just before a new announcement of his passion (Matthew 26:1-2),

The passage has a “pact structure,” says Pikaza, in its two-part statement (I am your God, who is in the little ones, and you will be my people if you love the little ones); the pact takes place through justice among human beings. It is the judgment of the Reign, the universal and definitive judgment, that brings to light God’s truth among human beings; this truth is in the identification of the Son of Man, become King, with the hungry, the thirsty, wayfarers, the naked, the sick, and prisoners. The Son of Man is he who suffers with the little ones; and it is this Son of Man, precisely as incarnate in the crucified people, who will become judge. In its very existence the crucified people is already judge, although it does not formulate any theological judgment, and this judgment is salvation, insofar as it unveils the sin of the world by standing up to it; insofar as it makes possible redoing what has been done badly; insofar as it proposes a new demand as the unavoidable route for reaching salvation. This is, lest we forget, a universal judgment in which sentence is passed on the whole course of history. Pikaza notes that Matthew 25:36-4 1 entails a dialectical vision of the Jesus of history; he has been poor and yet it is he who helps the poor. Seen from the Pasch, Jesus appears as the Son of Man, who suffers in the wretched of the earth, yet is likewise also the Lord, who comes to their aid.
Thus the crucified people has a twofold thrust: it is the victim of the sin of the world, and it is also bearer of the world’s salvation. But this second aspect is not what we are developing here in terms of the Pauline “died for our sins and rose for our justification.” This present chapter, halting at the crucifixion, presents only the first stage. A stage focused on the resurrection of the people should indicate how the one crucified for the sins of the world can by rising contribute to the world’s salvation. Salvation does not come through the mere fact of crucifixion and death; only a people that lives because it has risen from the Death inflicted on it can save the world.
The world of oppression is not willing to tolerate this. As happened with Jesus, it is determined to reject the cornerstone for the building of history; it is determined to build history out of power and domination, that is, out of the continual denial of the vast majority of oppressed humankind. The stone that the builders rejected became the cornerstone, stumbling-block, and rock of scandal. That rock was Jesus, but it is also the people that is his people, because it suffers the same fate in history. Those who once “were now people” are now “people of God”; those who were “viewed without pity” are now “viewed with mercy.” In this people are the living stones that will be built into the new house, where the new priesthood will dwell and will offer the new victims to God through the mediation of Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Pet. 2:4-10).

-Translated by Phillip Berryman and Robert R. Barr

Read also: Do This in Memory of Me, from Compass Theology Review 25 (1991) no 4, pp. 33-35.

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