Liberation Theology I - Fritz the Cat

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Imagine yourself a churchman doing missionary work in Latin America. Your parish is far from the city. Your parishers are illiterate peasants who work for a wealthy family. The peasants dress in rags and are always about half hungry. Disease takes many of the y oungest children, because there are no doctors, and there is no money for medicine.

You've been to the owner's mansion, and often thought of the great good that could be done with just a little of the surplus that allows him to live in luxury. Then the peasants hear that in another part of the country the peasants refused to work until they were guanteed a better life. But when your parishers tried to organize a strike their leaders were tortured or killed. Houses were burned and the company store was closed.

The owner started brings thugs from the city to work for him and soon had a small army. It was no longer safe for women to be out after dark. The owner was law, and kept the workers living like slaves. It was forbidden to even teach the peasants to read, much less organize themselves.

What would you do? You could tell the peasants to have faith; their reward would come in heven. You could tell them that God would smile on them if they turned the other cheek, and that the owner would go to hell for his sins. Many did.

Others rejected the idea that the word of God led only to impotence here on earth. They studied Scripture and church history and decided that the Bible not only allowed, but demanded that they enlist in the war of the rich against the poor, on the side of the poor.

Priests like Father Gaspar Garcia of Nicaragua, who hid guns and rebels in his church, brought food and medicine for the insurgents, and finally died, gun in hand, fighting at the side of his parishers, in their battle against the United States backed Somoza army.  

Or Camilo Torres of Colombia. Scion of a wealthy family, he studied in France and headed the department of Sociology at the Bogotá Seminary. He too despaired of bringing a better life to the poor through reform of the system and died in the Columbian jungle, gun in hand, fighting at the side of the poor peasants.

Or the hundreds of priests and bishops of Latin America and the third world who, taking counsel from Vatican Two and the Conference of Latin American Bishops held at Medellin, Columbia, have reinterpreted the Bible to better serve the needs of the poor and powerless. Where the Bible was formerly conservative and oppressive, it is now radical and liberating. The focus is shifting from heven to earth. Faith must make room for efficacy.

Moses founded Judaism at a time when all commerce was controlled by the Pharaoh, who collected as high as 20% of all the products of the soil. The Jewish people were then slaves and had experienced famine in the recent past. God, through Moses, laid down the rules whereby Israel might rise out of slavery and become a great nation.

The major rules were, of course, the Ten Commandments. Other laws sought to insure against the development of a class based social system. That there should be rich and poor among the children of God was contrary to His will.

The most powerful of these laws was to love your neighbor as yourself (first found in Lev. 19:18). It is such a powerful law that Jesus said that if a person loved God with all his heart, soul and mind, and loved his neighbor as himself he would be obeying all of the prophets and Old Testament laws (Mt.22:35-40).

Deut.15:8 command that we loan money to whoever asks. Deut.23:19 tell us not to charge interest on a loan to someone of the same faith. Deut.23:24 says that part of the harvest should be left in the fields for widows, orphans and poor. Deut.15:1-4commands that every seven years a release should be granted to all debts, and promises that if God's laws are obeyed there will no longer, be poor people among us.

But the people had heard hearts and would not obey God's laws. Isiah 58 makes known the Lord's displeasure at the people who delight in hearing the laws read to them, though they never obey them. Though they make many sacrifices and wear sackcloth the Lord will not hear them while they oppress their workers. The Lord wants us to treat those who work for us fairly, and give them what they earn. He wants us to give food and clothing to those who are hungry and cold, and to protect the poor and weak.

The penalty for breaking the Lord's laws is destruction. Jerusalem's sins were worse than Sodom's, whom the Lord destroyed. Sodom's sins were pride and laziness and too much food, while the poor and needy suffered outside her door. Jerusalem didn't use justice and mercy when dealing with her neighbors, but rather paid them to be her friend.

Such friendship is for the good times only, and when the better armed and organized Roman legions arrived they easily conquored the area. Since the Jews had already fallen from the Lord's grace, nothing changed all that much.

The Jewish high priests (the Sadducees) and the legal system (the Pharisees) entered into a pact with the Romans to jointly exploit the poor Jews. The poor people's burden grew heavier with extra duties and taxes. The priests began offering a daily sacrifice to the Cesar and the Roman people's wellbeing. The Romans improved the roads and water works and fortifications. They demanded taxes and used the Jewish treasury to pay for the improvements.

The Old Testament prophets had promised the Jewish people a leader to deliver them out of oppression. Several people had claimed to be this Messiah, had led attacks against the Romans, and had met the rebel's fate. The Roman punishment for rebellion was crucifixion. There were many crosses in Galilee.

The Jewish rebels against Rome formed an organization. They were called the Zealots because they were so zealous of their religious beliefs. The mere presence of an authority other than God's among his chosen people was sacrilegious and offensive to them. The fact that the Romans collected taxes and made the lives of the poor people harder was as contrary to the sayings of the prophets.

At this time the Roman emperor ordered all his new subjects to go to their place of birth and register so he would know how much tax money to get from his overseer Herod. So Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem, their place of birth, to register.

Jesus was born under the oppression of a foreign master. His family was forced to flee when an angel gave them advance notice of Herod's plan to slaughter all the babies.

At that time Judas son of Ezekias, whose family had fought the Romans for 130 years in the area of Galilee, led an uprising which was put down by two legions of Roman troops from Syria. The temple was burned and 2000 Jews were crucified in retaliation.

Children grow up fast in that kind of environment, and Jesus was soon astonishing his elders with his knowledge of Jewish religious history and laws.

The Jewish culture deteriorated under Roman domination. The Jews who cooperated with the Romans lost sight of their God and the poor were heavily afflicted.

At that time a holy man called John came out of the wilderness where he had lived eating wild honey and locusts. Ile condemned the rich for falling from God’s ways, and advised the people to share what the/ had. He baptized those willing to repent, and prophesied about the Messiah who was to come. Jesus came to him and was baptized.

Jesus began to do many great things. He healed the sick, fed the hungry, and gave those who were thirsty something to drink. He taught the people the way to live that they might see God’s kingdom. Jesus chooses from among the people twelve to assist him. One of them was a Zealot. He was Simon, called the zealous one.
He taught the poor that good times were ahead for them, but the rich he taught woe. He taught them to share equally and to treat their neighbors as they would be treated. He said that you have shown love for God when you feed the hungry, or visit the sick or imprisoned. He said that anyone who had two coats should give one to someone who didn't have any. He was concerned that God's children share things equally.

He taught them how to live under the Romans.

If a man should slap you on the cheek, don't get excited. He is challenging you or insulting you. Accept neither his challenge nor his insult, and turn to him the other cheek as a sign of this. And watch for the day of the Lord.

If a man should force you to carry his military gear for one mile, offer to carry it for him two miles. For while you are doing his work he gets weaker and you get stronger. You may have your own military equipment someday. And watch for the day of the Lord.

No one knew when the day of the Lord was to come, excepting the Lord. The Zealots prayed for its appearance, for they savored a reckoning with the enemies of the Lord. Most of the Mews prayed for its postponement, for they feared its destruction and its disruption of daily life.

Some people thought the Messiah would make the kingdom appear through supernatural agents and that they would only have to enjoy the fruits. Jesus told them they were wrong. He told them that he was not here to bring peace on earth, but a sword.

Jesus prophesied that in those days not one stone of the Temple would be left standing on top of another. He told the people to pray it didn't come in the winter, and woe unto those who were pregnant or giving suck to children. For he knew that those would be hard days. It would be darkness and not light; as if a man fled from a lion and a bear met him, or went into a house and leaned his hand against the wall and a serpent bit him.

Jesus taught the people in parables, so that the Romans and the rich Jews might hear and yet not understand, while the poor and those who walked in the ways of the Lord might understand. A Pharisee asked Jesus if it was right to pay taxes to Rome. Jesus could see it was a trap. If he said yes the people would lose faith that he was the Messiah. If he said no the Romans would crucify him. His answer wasn't clear enough to be used as evidence, but those who were truly God's children knew that all things came from God and were owed to God, leaving nothing to render unto Caesar.

Jesus' mission was to fulfill the law and the prophets, who had prophesied that there would be no poor people on the earth if God's laws were obeyed. The whole of these laws and all the prophets could be condensed into two laws: love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. When these two laws are fulfilled the kingdom of God will appear. Jesus preached the spirit of sharing, and condemned the spirit of selfishness. The kingdom of God is within us, we only need to change from a spirit of egoism to a spirit of self-less neess

Jesus preached to the people the importance of the spirit, and the unimportance of the flesh. The words that he spoke were spirit and life. But some of the people did not believe. They lacked faith in the Word. Some of them couldn't understand the Word, for the Romans and rich Jews hindered Jesus' preaching.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. Jesus preached the Word and did many miracles through the Word. But Jesus knew that the prophets had also preached the Word, and he knew that it was not sufficient. He had come to fulfill the prophet's Word and for this the Word must be made flesh.

Jesus attracted many followers by healing the sick, but the Lord's vineyard needed many more workers. So Jesus gave his disciples power to heal, and sent them into the countryside.

The disciples attracted many more followers, and soon Jesus was able to take many thousands of men, with their families, into the wilderness to teach them. We know that he was organizing them, because they always sat down by companies when they ate.

After Jesus had fed the multitudes, the people sought him to be their Messiah. They wanted a Messiah, they needed a Messiah, but they weren't ready for a Messiah. So Jesus refused, accusing them of only being there because he had fed them. He knew how hard the road to salvation would be He knew how poorly organized they were. The day of the Lord was not yet to be.

But Jesus knew a way he could hasten that day. The people needed an example to fellow. If the people would not follow the example of the Word, perhaps they would follow the example of the flesh. His was to be a mission of consciousness raising. He spoke now with new authority; foretelling the future, for his mind was set. He would die, thus showing that he loved his neighbor more than his own body, and he would be raised on the third day to show God's love for him. He asked any who would follow him to likewise deny their bodies, take up their cross, and follow him. For he was going to take Israel away from Rome, and give it back to God. This was insurrection, and the Romans crucified rebels. Jesus told them that if they played it safe
they would suffer a slow death under Roman rule. If they took a chance and picked up their cross, they would gain the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus took Peter and John and James to see Elijah and Moses, with whom he discussed the glorious events that were to pass in Jerusalem. His face and whole body glowed as he spoke with them.

Then Jesus set off for Jerusalem, sending out an advance party to encourage people to go to Jerusalem. He told them to rebuke the people, scold the people, threaten them, and if need be shame them, but get them to Jerusalem. And he gave them powers to assist them.

On the way to Jerusalem they met a tax collector. Jesus told Peter that although they shouldn't have to pay taxes, the mission they were on was too important to be delayed. Jesus then caused the money to be raised miraculously.

Jesus told his disciples that they would soon be flavored with fire, and if they were salty they could favor others. For if the salt of the earth isn’t salty, when who can be? And he told them to make peace with one another.

Jesus told them the story of a man who asked hes neighbor for food to feed a friend who was hungry. But his neighbor thought only of himself and made lame excuses why he could not help. Jesus told his followers that although the neighbor wouldn’t help out of the goodness of hes heart, he would help if you made it very plain that he would get no rest until he did help.

Jesus had asked the high priests and Romans as neighbors to please help feed his friends who were hungry. They gave him lame excuses. Now he was going’ to Jerusalem to disturb their peace. He wanted his disciples to understand that they must keep disturbing their greedy neighbors' peace until they had food for their hungry friends.

Later he cast out a demon that had made a man unable to speak. A man was there who must have been a lawyer, for he tried to blame Jesus for a technicality. He whispered that Jesus was using the devil's power to cast out demons. But Jesus heard and saw the opportunity for a parable that would confound the lawyers and at the same time enlighten the poor, which was a thing in which he truly delighted.

The devil would never send me to cast out one of his forces, said Jesus, for he would then have part of his house fighting against another part of his house. And every house divided falls,, And the lawyer realized that Jesus had spoken truly, and he was downcast, for a reward awaited him who could deliver Jesus to the high Priest. They might even make him supervisor of the money changers. But the lawyer had only understood port of the story. He sought to twist the meaning of Jesus' action to his own selfish aims. When he saw that was not possible he discarded the parable as useless, completely forgetting about the good Jesus had done the dumb man.

But the poor people watched Jesus' actions and listened to his words with ears to understand the Messiah, who was on a mission to establish God's kingdom and needed their help to gather in more workers to the harvest. They understood that the devil was Rome and her hired Jewish priests and the very lawyer Jesus had confounded. The devil was egoism, the power that blinded all to all that didn't profit oneself. And God was selfless ness, the power that enabled one to love ones neighbor as oneself, or with Jesus Christ's help, to love ones neighbor even more than one's own body. And they understood further that since Jesus had the power of selflessness, that it was the power of egoism that kept the man dumb. Degradation, humiliation, fear, and hunger had dehumanized him until he was afraid of the sound of his own voice. But Jesus made him understand that his voice was not for his own personal good, but for the good of his neighbors. Realizing this broke the spell of egoism, and the man told everyone of the hollowness and futility of shaping the whole world to fit one's personal ambition.

And Jesus continued the parable. A strong man fully armed guards his palace, but a stronger man comes and takes his armor and gathers in his spoils. And the poor people understood that Jesus was talking about the man he had just healed. The strong man was Rome and the rich people and their armor was egoism. The dumb man was their spoils. Then God sent Jesus with the power of selflessness. The power of egoism was overthrown, the dumb man was delivered from Satan's power, and the kingdom of God came nearer.

Then Jesus went one but since this teaching seemingly contradicted an earlier teaching he no longer spoke in riddles, but in plain speech. He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.

There is a time for everything, a time for gathering stones together, and a time for casting stones. In the time for gathering forces the appropriate teaching was "he who is not against me is for me." In peace you can examine your allies, winnow out the wheat from the chaff, and assign places according to how high one's consciousness had been raised. If one is deceived in time of peace the turnaround would need be very swift to do much harm. But in time of war, in the time of casting stones, it is crucial that everyone who is with you is whole heartedly with you. In war it is better to have one person whole heartedly an your side than to have a thousand people on the sideline waiting to see who would win. And Jesus was not going to Jerusalem to make peace with the buyers and sellers.

Then Jesus resumed speaking in parables, for he wanted to warn his followers about the ways of egoism. He spoke of an evil spirit who is cast out and can find no peace. He returns to his old home and finds it swept and in order, but he brings seven spirits more evil' than himself to reenter his old abode. Then the situation of the man was much worse than it ever was.

And since they had understood all along that the demon was egoism, they now understood that Jesus was warning them that if they should expel egoism from Israel and put the kingdom of God in its place, the Romans the rich Jews would not rest until they had accumulated sufficient forces to attack again.

A poor woman praised his teaching and blesses its source. Jesus said blessed rather its destination and those who apply God's teaching.

Later Jesus gave advice on how God's will was to be done on earth. He compared heaven to a marriage feast and then to a great banquet, but the poor and humble heard him well

When you receive your calling to build God's kingdom, don't be presumptuous and try to take control of things. Rather seek out the most humble position and start serving those around you. For certainly you will be surrounded by the Wry poor, who called you to service, who create all the good things at every marriage feast, and who are the rock on which you must build. And when the poor see you are humble and want to serve them they will open their hearts to you and assist you in doing miracles and send you to do the most important tasks.

If you should be in a position to invite people to the great kingdom that is to come, be careful who you chose. Don't invite the rich to work in God's vineyard, for when they are needed they will come up with all kinds of lame excuses. I have a stock portfolio I must' tend. I am being honored elsewhere. I'll help later. You must bring these people low and humble them. Hey mus become a footstool to the Lord. Rather exhault the lowest to the highest places, for the kingdom must be built on solid rock. If the need be great, go out in the street and compel people to come to the banquet, but don’t go looking for the rich, because they had their chance and now will only look to spoil things.

And multitudes were following him. Jesus knew that at this stage of his consciousness raising mission what was needed was a small group of highly motivated people ready to carry rebellion to its logical conclusion. Victory or death. So he told them that if anyone wished to follow him, they should forget their parents, spouses, children, property, and even their very lives. For the penalty for anything less than complete success was the death of many on a Roman cross. Therefore if anyone can't pick up his own cross and follow in the Lord's footsteps, it would be better if they didn't even start.

Again he called them the salt the earth, and encouraged them to flavor others with their saltiness. If not now when? If not you, who?

Jesus taught them that some of the egoists would repent if they could be reached. And if one egoist repents it will copse more joy in heaven than could 99 righteous people who have no need of repentance. If a child of a rich man who has not followed in his father's footsteps seeks to become a servant of the poor, by all means welcome him.

And Jesus taught them how very difficult it was for a rich man to walk in the way of the Lord. For all their material goods feed their egoism and blinds them to their responsibilities to the poor. The last thing standing between many and the kingdom of heaven is their worldly possessions. Thus the rich young ruler lost salvation because he could not part with his property. But a sinner like Zacchaeus gained salvation
n when he gave up only one half of his possessions and promised fourfold restitution to those he had defrauded.

How easy it is to enter the kingdom that is to come when you have to give up only an extra coat or pair of shoes. How hard it is when you own a fortune that is urgently needed by the poor. Then how great will be the rejoicing in the kingdom of God when a person of many possessions denies his self-interest and his possessions for the comfort of the poor. He who humbles himself, his exaltation will be great.

When they came near to Jerusalem Jesus perceived that some of the multitude who followed thought the kingdom would appear immediately. So he told them of a nobleman who went to receive a kingdom. He left money with some of his servants to invest in his absence. Before he left some of his citizens made known their hatred for him, and told him they wouldn't accept him as king. He came back as king, and to the servant who increased his money tenfold, he gave authority over ten cities. To the one who increased his money fivefold he gave authority over five cities. But one man did not increase the money at all, and the little that he had was taken away from him and given to the one with ten cities. Then the king ordered his rebellious citizens killed.

And the people understood that this ordinary king was following common business sense in giving the most authority to the one who could make the most money by oppressing the common man, who naturally resented it and hated the king. The king naturally took care of the problem by killing the trouble makers. And the people understood that as long as there were kings, servants, and armies under the power of egoism, which is the power of Satan, they were still very far from the kingdom of the Lord.

For when people think only of themselves, actions against God’s will seem ordinary and every day. Only when people change their attitude and start counting profits in the amount of hungry fed, homeless sheltered, and afflicted soothed will the kingdom of God be near.

And when he approached Jerusalem he sent for an ass' colt which Moses and Elijah had arranged, and he rode it into the city. And a mighty crowd welcomed him a5Hing, and they followed him to the Temple. Then all the buyers and sellers and those who changed money in the Temple fled, for they knew Jesus had condemned them before the crowd. Jesus overturned all the tables and turned all the merchandise out of the Temple.

He began to teach daily in the temple. The rich people and the high priests hated its but they could do nothing because the people protected Jesus. And at night when the people went home Jesus went outside the city to a place of hiding to sleep.

Jesus sent his followers to a place in the city arranged for by Elijah and Moses to prepare for the Passover feast. He knew that Judas had already betrayed him and he had important last instructions to give out.

When they were gathered together he poured out a cup of wine, asked them to devide it out, and told them he would drink no more wine until he was in the kingdom of God. And he broke bread, gave it to them, and asked that he be remembered each time people shared food. He told them that the greatest person in his kingdom would be the one who served the poor people the most.

He told them that in former times he had sent them out with no purse, bag, or =dais to teach them to know and rely on the poor people. But now times would be different. They would be spreading the message of Christ, crucified for sedition against Rome. Now, for their own good and the good of their mission they must go well provided for, if possible. And they must be especially sure to go armed. Even if they had to sell their coats they should buy swords, for they would have to deal with men who would be armed. One of them said that they now had two swords among them. Jesus said that it was enough.

After the last supper Jesus went out of the city with the disciples. Later Judas came with the high priests and some rich men with their henchmen to arrest Jesus. Some of the disciples wanted to offer resistance, but they only had two swords and the others were well armed, so Jesus stopped them. Then Judas and the crowd arrested Jesus, but the disciples escaped.

They took Jesus before the high priest and tried to get people to give false witness against him. That didn't work so they tried to get him to blasphemy, which they finally decided he had done. They wanted to kill him, but they wanted the Romans to do it because they feared the people. So they took him to Pontius Pilate, the governor, and accused him of stiring up the people, forbidding people to pay taxes to Rome, and claiming to be king of the Jews. And Pilate made sport of him and tried to humiliate him, then sent him to Herod, who did the same and sent him back. And Pilate sentenced Jesus to be nailed hand and foot to a wooden cross and left to die. For such was the traditional Roman punishment for rebels.

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