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The gospel in Solentiname.

The Shepherds of Bethlehem (Luke 2:8-20) Near Bethlehem there were some shepherds who were spending the night in the field, watching over their sheep. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared, and the glory of the Lord shone round them: and they were very frightened. But the angel said to them, "Don't be afraid, for I bring you good news that will be cause for much joy for all."

We were gathered in the little church. The first to speak was old Tomas Pena, with his customary wonderful simplicity: "The way I see it is that those guys who were watching over their sheep heard good news. There they were just like us here, and they heard good news. Like when we heard that you were coming. They told us that a priest was coming and we couldn't believe it at first, because no priest ever used to come here.... Well, it was like this when they were watching over their sheep and they heard good news. They were sad before. They weren't at a party. They were just screwed up."

"And why were they the ones to get the good news?" I asked.

Tomas Pena: "Because they were closer to God. Others were thinking about bad things, and not good things. That's how it seems to me."

Patrico: "They were closer to God because they were there at night keeping watch, and since they wwere keeping watch God wanted to send them good news. It seems to me that thaths the way it might have been."

Felipe: "The angel came to them because they were working men, and I find this is very important for us. Because they were poor little people who were working. They were watching over their sheep which is like taking care of cattle today. They were workers, laborers, poor people. The angel of God could have gone to the king's palace and said to him: 'The Savior has been born.' But the angel didn't go where the king was but where the poor people were, which means that this message is not for the big shots but for the poor little guys, which means the oppressed, which means us."

I: "It was really the shepherds who were at the bottom of the social scale in Israel...."

Alejandro: "And the good news is that theyhre going to find somebody just like themselves, a poor guy wrapped in swaddling clothes."

Today was born in the city of David a Savior for you, who is Christ the Lord.

Felix: "He's making it clear that it's for them that he's coming. It seems to me that they were like slaves and when they heard that a liberator was coming they were filled with joy. They already knew that a Messiah was coming, and when they hear the angel announce that he's already here they're filled with joy. They know that his birth was going to free them from slavery, because, like the slaves that they were, they were forced to work. A liberator from all slavery. He was coming to liberate all slaves, all poor people, not just poor people of that time but those of today too! Every poor person who lives working for the rich lives like a slave."

Felipe: "Every worker is always poor, even if he works in a factory."

Felix goes on: "He was coming to liberate the poor. He wasn't coming to liberate the rich. That's why the news had to come to poor people. It was for them most of all. And it's the same now: the news, the word of God always goes to the poor people. Because I believe that the poor people, because of their poverty, always hear the word of God more often than the rich. A lot of rich people go to church on Sunday but they don't listen to the word of God, they go to enjoy themselves... or they don't go."

Sabino: "It's the same with a lot of poor people here.... They don't come to church...."

Francisco: "Even the angel didn't reach all the poor people...."

Felipe: "The gospel says he came to people who were working, not to people who were loafing."

Felix: "Well, the Holy Spirit always comes more to poor people nowadays, because the poor people in their slavery have to turn to God every day. And when you least expect it, maybe working in the field, suddenly you get a good idea: that means the Spirit came to you."

Oscar: "They were like us, poor and in need of a liberator. Because they took care of the animals, but on the other hand they were alone, abandoned by everybody. That's the way we are, humiliated by the rich too. But if somebody comes to tell us that we shouldn't be always serving those rich people like slaves, comes to talk to us about revolution, something like that, then we gradually realize that we too can struggle."

Julio: "It seems to me that we are the shepherds of the rich people because we work for them. We support them with our work, and a liberator has to come to help us too. We are campesinos and woodcutters, but it seems to me that we don't need an angel to come to tell us personally. Or maybe he already came...."

Felipe: "The angel is any idea, any inspiration that you get in the woods when you're there cutting wood, like Felix says, any idea about doing something for other people, for the community. It's the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit is the spirit of love for others, right?"

Julio: "well, that's why I just said that maybe that angel already came and we donht need to wait for him to come in the form of a vision, personally, because maybe right now when we're reading this and hearing these words the angel is coming to give us the news."

I: "That's right. At this very imoment you are receiving the same news from the angel that the shepherds received."

Laureano: "We already got the news. But we have to do the work...."

"We have to spread the news," interrupted his cousin Julio.

Laureano continued: "To find ways to liberate ourselves. Because liberation comes through people."

Felipe: "Those who are against it, it's always because of selfishness."

Oscar: "Also because of fear. A lot of us are afraid. Afraid that they'll do us some harm, prison, death.... And a lot of times this fear is from ignorance."

And as a sign, you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.

Oscar: "He was born in a farmyward. He came for the sake of poor people, the liberator. That's why he had to be born like that. He had to set an example for us. That nobody should think he's better than others. To feel ourselves all the same, equal. Because everybody was born from the same womb, his mother's."

Angel, Felix's son: "If theyhd been offered a good house wouldn't Mary and Joseph have accepted it?"

Rafael: "They wouldn't have turned it down, I bet."

Oscar: "Then it would have been better if he hadn't come."

Felix: "He was coming to let the poor know he was their comrade."

Angel: "The only reason they didn't accept a house is because nobody offered them one."

Julio: "Why didn't anybody offer them one?"

Oscar: "They were very poor. That's why."

Tomas Pena: "Maybe people thought they were slippery characters, that they were going to steal...."

Felix: "That's what happens nowadays. If some raggedy people come to the city and ask for a place to stay they don't get any, or if they do it'll be off in a chicken coop, to sleep with the chickens."

Tomas: "If he had been born in a rich man's house the shepherds wouldn't have been able to get there, because it was a fancy house. Maybe they wouldn't even have let them in."

Oscar: "The shepherds wouldn't even have wanted to go there because they would have seen he wasn't coming for them but for the rich."

I said: "And the rich don't need liberation. What liberation do the rich need!"

William: "The rich need to be liberated from their money."

Felipe: "When the poor get liberated, they'll get liberated too."

Little Adan: "The poor will liberate them."

Francisco: "And the poor also have the chance to be great, like the Messiah who was born like the common people."

I said: "The people really have great abilities that only need to be developed. When the people have education, enough food...."

Natalia: "Like in Cuba, where all the children are healthy. They're all taken care of when they're sick and everything. If you're old they take care of you. They give you everything you need and you're healthy and eager to work. And there the poor can learn a profession. And where can anybody do that here?"

And suddenly next to the angel appeared many other angels from heaven praising God, and saying, "Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to hem who love."

Old Tomas Pena asked: "Those other angels who had stayed behind, who didn't come with the other angel, was it because God hadn't enlightened them yet, or was it because they had to come farther?"

I said: "Or because the shepherds hadn't seen them. First an angel speaks to them, afterward they hear others...."

Tomas: "It's like us here. We're all listening, but we don't manage to understand everything. So then, those who had heard hadn't taken it all in."

Don Julio Chavarria: "Not until that moment was there peace on earth--when the child was born. And that's probably why there was joy in heaven. That's what the angels are singing, it seems to me."

Edgard, a youg man who had been a Franciscan and who was visiting us, said: "The glory of God can't exist in heaven until there is peace among men, which means justice, brotherhood, equality (peace is all this). The rich often believe that they give glory to God, but they don't give peace and justice, and so they don't give glory to God because the two things go together."

William: "When there is peace, love, there is glory to God."

They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw him, they told what the angel had said to them about the child, and all those who heard them wondered at what they said.

Julio: "Before they felt oppressed, and when the Savior came, they felt free and told about their joy."

Tomas: "And then all the people were happy. I mean the poor people, because the new news reached them all."

But mary kept all this in her heart, thinking about it.

Tomas: "She wasn't surprised like the rest of them, because she was lit up by the Holy Spirit and by everything that had happened to her. But even so she thought that maybe others would tell things that weren't so. They would make them bigger and say things they hadn't seen. And she also thought that they could kill him, or do something else to him, right? Dangerous.... They could do all kinds of bad things to him."

I: "Yes, Mary already knew from the Annunciation that Jesus would be the Messiah...."

Tomas: "She thought they could hurt him because he was the Messiah. And they did attack him. Because since he was coming to liberate us, all the people, he would face many enemies. He was going to have many struggles."

Julio: "And if Mary knew that's why Jesus was coming, and she knew it sooner than the angels, why didn't she tell? Why did she wait for the angels to tell? It seems to me she was afraid they would come to kill him, so she'd rather keep the secret. That's why she didn't tell."

Oscar: "The shepherds knew it. The king and the rich people didn't know it. The same thing happens now. Not everybody knows about the coming of this Jesus."

Julio: "I think a lot of people know about it, but what happens is that there's a lot of fear. They don't dare approach like the shepherds did because they're afraid. And there are a lot of other people who don't know about it."

Jesus in Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30)

We were in the little church, and we read the gospel passage where Jesus goes to the temple in Nazareth and reads a phophecy of Isaiah: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has chosen me to give the good needs to the poor; he has sent me to heal the afflicted in heart, to announce freedom to the prisoners and give sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed, to announce the year of grace of the Lord.

Somebody began by saying that here we see how Jesus wasn't against the scriptures but against the Pharisees who falsified them in the temples and used them to defend their interests, even though the message of these scriptures was liberation.

I said that evangelio [gospel] is a Greek word that means "good news," and the translation that we read here, "to give the good news to the poor,c is better than the one that has been traditionally given, "to evangelize the poor." The expression "good news" in antiquity had the sense of joyful announcement, of a message of joy or victory. "Good news," an evangelio, was announced when a prince was born, when a battle was won, when the emperor was going to visit a city. When the messenger of evangelist arrived with some "good news" there was great rejoicing. Emperors often sent false "good news" so that great feasts would be held in their honor at the people's expense. In reality the "good news" was always a false joy, and for the people it meant the announcement of a new oppression. When Herod came to power the cities of Galilee would receive one of these "good news" or evangelios. In the time of Christ the word was a political term associated above all with the cult of the emperor, who was considered a god and a savior. Just by using this word, Christ was indicating that his announcement was the announcement of a new kingdom.

And others comment:

"And his good news is for the poor because this new kingdom is the triumph of the poor and the humble."

"And this is truly good news, not like the others, which were false."

"And it's a joyful announcement for the whole people, one that deserves to be celebrated."

"And it's news that we can believe in or not."

One of the women says: "What he read in the book of the prophet is prophecy of liberation. And it's a teaching that a lot of Christians haven't learned yet, because we can be in a church singing day and night tra-la-la-la, and it doesn't matter to us that there are so many prisoners and that we're surrounded by injustice, with so many afflicted hearts, so many people without education who are like blind people, so much unfairness in the country, so many women whose eyes are filled with tears every day. And if they take somebody else prisoner, what do we lose? 'Maybe he did something,' they say, and that's the end of the story."

Felipe adds: "Prisoners, in every sense. Yes, because it's not just the ones who are in jail. It can also be a servant, a prisoner of a rich person, serving him. Also, the ones who are prisoners in their mentality, without any freedom to think. Their minds have been so conditioned that the only thing they know how to do is to serve."

And one who has come from the opposite coast: "And to put up with whatever they do to them. Because that's how it is; if we're serving some rich person we're putting up with whatever they do to us. They don't even let you go out, because if you go out to take a rest you lose your job. 'We're going to have to let you go,' they tell you. And so you don't lose your job, there you are, putting up with things until Sunday."

And another: "And if we talk about this they say it's communism. That's what the radio says hour after hour: It's communism. What they mean is that they like keeping us in slavery."

I explained that the "year of grace" that Isaiah speaks of and that was also called the "holy year" was a year of general emancipation of people and goods, which Yahweh had ordered to take place in Israel every seven years. Bought slaves should then be freed, all debts should be abolished, and lands that had been sold should be returned to their original owners. The aim of this measure was to guarantee equality and freedom, to prevent the monopolizing of the lands. The law later decreed that the year of grace should be every 50 years (the jubiliee), and it was really a law that was not carried out. The prophecy of Isaiah was that the Messiah was going to announce a Lord's year of grace that would be definitive.

William: "And the holy or jubilee year now means that people go to Rome to pray in the churches and receive a papal blessing. But the holy year should be agrarian reform and the socialization of all means of production."

Another: A holy year is what's been done in Cuba...." Then Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it to the attendant of the synagogue, and sat down. As all eyes were fixed on him, he began to speak and he said: "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your presence."

Pedro Rafael Gutierrez: "Of course. Just by announcing liberation he was already fulfilling this prophecy. And just by saying 'today this prophecy is fulfilled' he was announcing liberation."

William: "The scripture said that he was going to say those things. He just had to read the scriptures for them to be fulfilled.

The good news was proclaimed to the poor."

Pedro Rafael: "And so he makes it clear, with deeds more than with words, that he is the Messiah, the announced liberation. This was his first political manifesto."

Olivia: "And from his own lips we heard that those words are for him. And this is how they were fulfilled. Not only those words that he read there but all the other words of scripture. That's why they're so interesting for us."

Natalia: "And now it's up to us to follow those words. I'm sure not everyone believed."

And Teresita: "It's like an invitation that he gave, to liberty."

William: "He's saying that he's the one. It's a message of pure liberation: the poor, the afflicted, the blind, the imprisoned...."

Laureano: "The truth is that all those people-blind, imprisoned, afflicted--they are the poor."

Pedro Rafael: "And you have to see, as a contrast, the negative part too. He didn't come to give any news to the rich but to talk to the poor. He didn't come to give health to those who are happy but to those who have problems, to the afflicted. He didn't come to be the ally of those who put people in jail but to free the prisoners. And he didn't come to blindfold people's eyes but to make them see. And he didn't come to oppress but to put an end to oppression and to proclaim total liberation. Let nobody falsify these words, as it often happens. And he said it in church!"

Cosme: "We see clearly, as Marcelino said the other day, that the world is very different from the way Christ wants it."

And I: "An example of how his words have been betrayed is that instead of saying that he came to give joyful news to the poor, it's been translated that he came to 'evangelize the poor.'" And they were amazed at his beautiful words and they said: "Is this not the son of Joseph?"

Felipe laughed and said: "It's as if they were seeing somebody who's the son of Octavio or of somebody around here, a carpenter, a laborer...."

"What he says is true," added old Tomas, who can't read. And he continued: "They can say the same thing about these poor people: 'Isn't that so-and-so?'"

Somebody else cited the case of a neighbor who doesn't want to come to our meetings because he says what can he learn hearing comments on the gospels from campesinos as ignorant as he is and he said: "If only the people who talked were educated! But all that you're going to hear is a Marcelino, an Alejandro, a Laureano...."

And I said: "That's exactly what they said about Jesus. The good news is for the poor, and the only ones who can understand it and comment on it are the poor people, not the great theologians. And it's the poor who are called to announce the news, as Jesus announced it. You would have to make our friend see that liberation can come only from the poor. And another time Jesus gave thanks to the Father because he had hidden this from the learned and he had revealed it only to the poor and the humble." He said to them, "Surely you will quote to me this proverb: 'Physician, heal yourself.'"

Rebecca: "Because he was poor. Let him Liberate himself before he liberates others. They don't understand that he has to be poor to liberate the poor, and he can'd do it if he's rich."

Julio: "They could say the same to us in Solentiname...." And he added: "In truth I say to you that no prophet is welcomed in his own country."

Tomas: "We're sure that's how it is...."

Pedro: "It proves what he told them because right there they took him out and tried to kill him."

Marcelino: "Jesus is present again in the temple announcing the good news, and he does it through the mouth of this poor community. And the scripture that's just been read has been fulfilled right there."


One day it happened that a group of boys and girls from Solentiname, because of profound convictions and after having let it mature for a long time, decided to take up arms. Why did they do it? They did it for only one reason: for their love for the kingdom of God, for the ardent desire that a just society be implanted, a real and concrete kingdom of God here on earth. When the time came, these boys and girls fought with great valor, but they also fought as Christians. That morning at San Carlos, they tried several times with a loudspeaker to reason with the guardsmen so they might not have to fire a single shot. But the guardsmen responded to their reasoning with submachine gunfire. With great regret, they also were forced to shoot.

Alejandro Guevara, one of those from my community, entered the building when in it there were no longer any but dead or wounded soldiers. He was going to set fire to it so that there would be no doubt about thes success of the assault, but out of consideration for the wounded, he did not do it. Because the building was not burned, it was officially denied that it was taken. I congratulate myself that these young Christians fought without hate--abve all without hate for the wounded guardsmen, poor peasants like themselves, also exploited. It is horrible that there are dead and wounded.

Some day, instead, they will be an abundance of schools, hospitals and clinics for everyone, food adequate for everyone, art and entertainment. But most important, there will be love among all.
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Author:Cardenal, Ernesto
Publication:Monthly Review
Date:Jul 1, 1984
Previous Article:A theology of liberation.
Next Article:On communist priests.

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