The Gospels and Power
Modern studies of the Gospels have focused on questions of the “historical Jesus” and making sense of the differences between the four Gospels. In the midst of these attempts to look behind the text, Jose Ramirez is a refreshing voice. Ramirez focuses on the Jesus presented in the Gospel of Matthew and his mission, particularly how his mission is articulated in conflict with the religious leaders of Judaism. After reading Ramirez, it certainly appears the West has at times been guilty of hiding from the text behind historical explorations. The themes Ramirez brings to our attention feel all-too contemporary, a world Jesus still confronts. Ramirez begins his article with Latin America’s gift to the evangelical church: misión integral. “In a context of permanent conditions of political oppression, economical exploitation, and increasingly insulting poverty, Christian mission has to deal with those issues and look for answers in the Word of God” (1). With this in mind, Ramirez walks through the Gospel of Matthew to present a Jesus who defined religious faith specifically around the call to love your neighbor. “God wants us to demonstrate our love to Him by means of concrete acts of mercy to those in need” (15). Throughout Ramirez’s article, it becomes obvious he has a particular insight into the Gospel story as a result of his own culture, even without knowing his story. He certainly betrays a close association with the theological world of Latin America, marked by themes of liberation and identifying Jesus with the oppressed. As I read his article, I was not so much concerned with what he was saying as wondering how I might better notice the things he was saying. At the end of the article, Ramirez specifically challenges the West towards showing hospitality to all (24), something the 2016 election showed is not on the radar of most Americans, and he specifically confronted the market-driven culture I myself was born and raised in (25-27). How do I recognize the ways Jesus confronts the powers of this age when I myself am in the majority of the most powerful country currently on the earth? To read the Gospels faithfully requires imagination on my part. It becomes necessary to step into the place of the Pharisees and ask, “How might Jesus say these words to me?” It also becomes necessary to step into the place of the powerless, which I am privileged to do when I take part in homeless ministry or think about my Italian ancestors and their immigrant experience. In that place, what I say and how I teach the Gospels has to deal with the question, “Does this sound like the good news that attracted the oppressed to Jesus or does it sound like someone speaking from a place of power?”
Jose Ramirez, Misión Integral: A Christological Paradigm for Missionary Work in the Third Millennium.