God’s intervention in human history is intimately connected with the liberation of God’s Chosen People.
Hebrew Liberation Theology is based in the dramatic events recounted in the Book of Exodus. God could not tolerate the oppression God’s own people were suffering at the hands of the Egyptians. God intervened in human history, inspiring tribal leaders and afflicting the oppressor, and the Chosen People fled to freedom! Under the leadership of Moses, they fled the Egyptians through the Red Sea into a forty-year trek through desert wilderness to the Promised Land.
Around 998 B.C., thirty-year old David became the King of Israel and, in 926 B. C., the northern tribes set up their own separate dynasty.
However, God's people were to taste oppression and slavery again. In the year 587 B.C., the Babylonians overran the Kingdom of Judah and subjugated God’s Chosen People, destroying the Temple. Between 724 B.C. and 722 B.C., the Assyrians then destroyed North Kingdom.
Prophets were called by God, sometimes in times of great distress of God’s people, to read the signs of the times and speak out to call the people back to faithfulness. The prophets Isaias and Jeremias refocused the hopes of the people in a Messiah who would come to again liberate them and restore Jerusalem to its place of dominance.
After the death of Christ, the faithful Jews were instructed to wait in Jerusalem, where the apostle James became Bishop, for the Messiah’s imminent return to liberate the people and restore them to their former glory. As reflected in the letter of James, the preferential option of the poor is a condition in welcoming the Christ’s return.
Paul, the self-proclaimed “apostle” due to his conversion experience, followed both the Jews and newly converted Gentiles to diaspora cities. Paul’s christology more and more would accommodate the diaspora gentile communities to which he ministered. This eventually created tension between James and Paul. As Paul travelled the diaspora world, he challenged the Roman establishment by aligning himself with the politically disenfranchised. At the same time, Paul clung to hoped-for return of Christ in glory to liberate his people. Paul’s emphasis on the death and resurrection of the Christ gave new hope to faithful victims that hung with Christ on the cross. (Paul’s radical egalitarianism and dedication to the poor were distorted by subsequent epistles that he did not write but were attributed to him.)
The Synoptics: Christ, the Liberator
Year B: The Gospel of Mark
Although written in Greek for Gentile Christians, the Gospel of Mark has roots the history of God’s liberating action for God’s people. Mark takes time to explain Jewish traditions to the reader and explain Hebrew words.
The Gospel of Mark is written as a journey, following the Christ and his disciples to Jerusalem. (Recall that, after the Christ's death and resurrection, Jerusalem was believed to be where the Christ would return to restore the people to freedom and grandeur. The entry into the city is a triumphal celebration: riding into town as royalty; people shouting; garlands dancing in the wind; garments strewn on the ground; leafy branches waving: the "red carpet" spread out before him.)
Miracles serve many functions in the Gospel of Mark. They, first of all, demonstrate the remarkable power of God. And they identify the Christ as more than a wonder worker, like those charlatans who commonly appeared in the community. This "wonder worker" was something special, something new and different, able to manifest the very power of God! People came form all sides to witness these new wonders. But the Christ made it clear that there was a revolution he was announcing both in word and in action: "The Kingdom of God is at hand!"
The Christ chose to keep his identity secret. Unlike Matthew (14:34-35), where parables are used to proclaim what was hidden, Jesus, in Mark, uses parables to disguise the message, available only to those who have “ears to hear” (4:26-34 11th Sun). Once Jesus heals the deaf man with a speech impediment, he “ordered them not to tell. But the more he ordered, the more they proclaimed it.”
The Gospel of Mark, along with a "Q Source" (a record of the Christ's sayings), is the chief resources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mark shows the Christ's healing action at the margins of society: the poor and those with disabilities no one else would touch.This preferential option continues to be developed by Matthew and Luke.
Year A: The Gospel of a Matthew
The Hebrew nation had struggled to maintain its identity throughout their historical bondage to Rome. The Temple was the physical locus of God among the people. On the altar of the temple, the high priest acknowledged God’s liberating history through animal sacrifice. When the Gospel of Matthew was written, the unthinkable had happened: the temple had been destroyed!
Matthew's audience were Jews of the Old Covenant who had become Christian.
God chose the "anawim", the “remnant” of true believers, as the launching pad of the Kingdom Revolution. Not of the powerful or people with social status, nor of the priests and legalists, the kingdom described by the Christ consists of the simple, those with little to lose, those discounted by society. Matthew was written to assure them that the Christ is the long-awaited Messiah. He is the new David, the Messiah that would come again and restore the fortunes of Israel. He is the new Moses, who would once again lead God's people to freedom.
The Christ spent forty days in the desert wilderness. Whereas God ultimately would not permit Mose to lead the people into the Promised Land, the Christ emerges the victor and the teacher! The devil had confronted him with powerful temptations that, in the end, would have been a choice for slavery. Jesus overcomes the strong urge for power, pleasure, and possession and asserts ultimate authority. The sin of Adam and Eve is vanquished. The role of Moses as the great liberator is supplanted.
Christ emerged from the waters of the River Jordan, now the new Moses passing through new waters towards a new liberation. A voice from heaven" "anoints" the Christ as the beloved Son and enjoins the people to listen to him. The Baptizer's followers would immediately recall the description of the Messiah in Isaiah 42:1-4: God's approves of and takes delight in the chosen one and fills him with a spirit to establish true justice.
It was on a mountain that Moses presented the Commandments of Covenant to the people. Obedience to these commands proved the people’s fidelity to the God who liberated them. The Christ, as the new Moses, proclaimed his new covenant in a “Sermon on the Mount”. Now humility, peacemaking and service open the way to happiness and new freedom.
Jesus’s followers believed that the Christ and Messiah would lead a revolution to once again liberate Israel from oppression. Armed with clubs and knives, they were ready to rebel against Rome at the revolutionary master’s beckoning. What then, they wondered after they returned to Galilee without as much as a stone thrown, happened to the insurrection they were ready to initiate?
This Messiah had a different agenda. Instead of fulfilling the expectations of his followers and exalting them socially and politically, the Christ began inviting the rabble to join their company: Samaritans, widows, children, and orphans; the sick, lepers, the lame, the blind. The Christ explained that the kingdom belonged to such as these. The money changers and vendors were thrown from the temple. Eschewing the place of honor at tables, the master chose to eat with tax collectors and sinners.
Year C: The Gospel of Luke
Luke was a disciple of Paul. It is no accident that, in the Gospel of Luke, the first revelation took place to the poor – the revelation of God in Christ was shared with the shepherds in the field, marginalized and humble people of the earth close to the herds and the seasons.
The opening Gospel from Luke in Ordinary Time of Year C describes Jesus, in the beginning of his public ministry, unrolling the scroll and reading the words of Isaiah, thereby adopting for himself the ministry of liberation:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because he anoints me
To bring good news to the poor.
He sends me to free captives,
Give sight to the blind,
Free the oppressed,
and announce a favorable year of the Lord.
Addressed to all people, the Christ presented the Beatitude mandates for happiness (“blessed are” … better translated as “happy are”) not from a mountain but on a “level place”. There he was approachable by the poor, by widows, by orphans, by the outcast and marginalized.
Jesus invites his followers to enjoy the company of the outcast and the oppressed without thought of earthly remuneration: "Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; you will be blessed because they cannot repay you." The invitation to "Table Sharing" both flew in the face of the cultural biases of class and the prevalent patron-client social system of Jesus' time as well as of the system of oppression of our day.
•Revolution of Compassion
Luke is the only Gospel to carry the commandment of love out in a story. This is the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. In the ministry of liberation, actual loving service to the oppressed neighbor is part and parcel of the commandment of love.
Apparent in the additions he makes to the other evangelists' accounts of the passion and death of the Christ, Luke's Gospel recounts a Revolution of Compassion:
oIn the agony in the garden, Luke tarries with Jesus, hears his earnest prayer, sees the drops of blood.
oThe Lord understands that his followers fell asleep heavy with sorrow, and he does not chide them.
oAt his arrest, when one of his followers cut off the servant of the high priest's ear, Jesus reaches out to heal the wound.
oHe consoles the women who came out to lament him, shows compassion toward the penitent thief, and prays to God forgive those who crucified him.
Over the centuries, the Kingdom Revolution would raise its head from a history of human bungling. Martin de Porres choosing the most menial chores in the monastery while assisting the poor. Francis of Assisi standing naked, renouncing his possessions, in the town center of Assisi. Mother Theresa binding the wounds of the “untouchables” dying in the gutters of Calcutta. Oscar Romero renouncing the trappings of his state as Bishop to “find his glory in the midst of his people.”
In 1968, the Bishops of Latin America assembled in Medellin in Colombia, where they formally endorsed liberation theology. They proclaimed that a preferential option for the poor is the heart of ministry and the agenda of the future mission of the church.
In Laudato Sí, Pope Francis’s letter to all humanity, the Pope extends liberation theology to include an "ecological spirituality". The notion of preferential option for the poor embraces the ravaged environment as “the poorest of the poor.” Believers can no longer complacently avoid the reality of climate change, but take compassionate action.
Armstrong, Karen, St Paul, the Apostle We Love to Hate, (New Harvest, 9/22/15),Pg 124