Saturday, May 11, 2013

Jesus the Liberator

This was a one page paper for the class Jesus and Hermeneutics at Boston College with Dr. Daniel Harrington S.J.   After reading selections from various scholars, the purpose was to answer the question: "Using Horsley and Sobrino, indicate a plausible historical and theological interpretation of Jesus' death."

Thesis: Jesus’ death needs to be understood historically and interpreted theologically for the benefit of believers. Horsley begins his assessment with some good, and some not-so-good thoughts about the Kingdom.

It seems his treatment on the whole takes seriously the “already,” but neglects the “not-yet” notions of the Kingdom of God. He rightly emphasizes aspects of the realized kingdom, and speaks against vague explications by scholars as simply the “rule of God”[1]. Furthermore, Horsley points out motifs of this realized kingdom in the gospel accounts: healings, “God’s liberating and restorative activity in the people’s personal lives” (181), likewise, the banquets, and exorcisms perform similar functions of kingdom demonstrated. On the other hand, Horsley fails to recognize that the kingdom has future aspects. The kingdom is certainly a liberating enterprise as found in Jesus’ practice and preaching and ministry (178), but could it leave the 1st century under Horsley’s assessment? Additionally, Horsley’s kingdom as liberating socially for people (190), while true, remains androcentric rather than theocentric. This can be seen also in his treatment of Jesus’ death. Historically speaking, Jesus was executed as a rebel (320-321), but this view alone neglects the theological/eschatological purpose of his death.

Sobrino, on the other hand, grounds Jesus’ death in good historical investigation, but shows no fear in moving into the theological realm to discuss its implications for people today, especially Third World Latin America. However, Sobrino is careful not to delve into the mind of Jesus in regards to the interpretation of his own death as expiation or some later theology of his death [2]. Rather he sees Jesus’ understanding of his death as hope in the triumphant kingdom (202). To answer the question why Jesus died, he first acknowledges the non-answer that it is in fact a mystery of God. At this point, however, he is willing to pull meaning from the early Christian understanding: sacrifice, new covenant, fulfilling scripture, etc. (223ff). Sobrino, doing theology in context, brings this discussion into the situation in Latin America labeling them “crucified people” (254-271). Solidarity, can certainly be found in identifying with Christ’s crucifixion (Gal. 2:20) however, caution should be employed to avoid claiming Christ’s work for the people.

[1] Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and the Spiral of Violence: Popular Jewish resistance in Roman Palestine (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), 167. (In-text citations from this point on).

[2] Jon Sobrino, Jesus the Liberator: A Historical-Theological Reading of Jesus of Nazareth (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1993), 201. (In-text citations from this point on).

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