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Book Review – Jesus of Galilee

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In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI posed the question to Christian believers and scholars, “What has Jesus really brought…if he has not brought world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world?”. In response to the Pope’s challenge, a group of theologians from around the world gathered in Galilee to reflect about the significance of Jesus among the peoples of Africa, Asia, Latin America, Caribbean, United States, and Europe. The book under review is an outcome of that conversation.

The focus of the conversation is Jesus of Galilee: a re-visitation of the “quest for the historical Jesus”, but with an important specification. In the wake of what Ignacio Ellacuria called the “historical reality” of Jesus, the interest of the participants in the dialogue converged on the basic stance that Jesus’ words and deeds embody and on the faith commitments that they mediate in Jesus’ followers.
The social location from which the reflection is developed varies according to the specific socio-cultural context of each author, and yet all write from the specific “locus” of the poor and oppressed, might they be the Mestizos and US Latinos (Virgilio Elizondo, Roberto S. Goizueta), the victims of the African slave trade and their descendants (M. Shawn Copeland), the immigrants and refugees from North Africa or Central and Southern America (Robert Lassalle-Klein, Pablo Alonso), the Igbo tribeswomen of West Africa (Caroline N. Mbonu), the aboriginal Adivasi of India (Francis Minj), the Dalit of India or the Sozusa of Korea (Sophia Park), or the wasted lives of the globalization process throughout the world (Mary Doak).
The collection itself of the essays is organized in four blocks. First, some interpretive frameworks that are thought to be important for approaching and understanding Jesus are outlined. They include: the historical research on the Galilee of Jesus (Sean Freyne), Jesus’ option for the poor and the priority of the Other (Gustavo Gutierrez), attention to cultural and intercultural dynamic (Virgilio Elizondo), Jesus’ mission between Reign of God and the cross, as respectively its “weight and its hard edge” (Jon Sobrino) and the historical reality of Jesus as the object of the gospels and Christian faith (Robert Lassalle-Klein). From these guiding points, the collection moves to present three areas of reflection (Bible, theology, and spirituality), a division that sounds a bit artificial in that the three themes continue to overlap each other. As well, ethical issues run throughout the entire collection and represent a main thrust. The general approach of the various essays to Jesus is “from below”: intercultural, in the light of the preferential option for the poor, and “practical”.
My initial assessment is mixed. I find the reflection developed by the various essays stimulating and enriching for a contextual appropriation of Christian faith and mission. Some essays are in this regard more valuable than others. Altogether, the collection looks as a re-assessment of liberation theology in relation to today’s world, with a new understanding of the “poor” to comprehend women, culturally oppressed people, immigrants and refugees and victims of globalization even in the first world.
Does the collection outline a contextual Christology for the 21st century? The conversation concentrates more on exploring what it means to be followers of Jesus at the beginning of this century. In this sense, the essays in Jesus of Galilee do provide a partial but challenging answer to the question of Pope Benedict. But can we really consider them also as Christological, in that they put forward a shift of focus of Christology from doctrinal explication of whom and what Jesus was/is to understanding it as enacted discipleship?

Benito De Marchi

Robert Lassalle-Klein (ed.), Jesus of Galilee. Contextual Christology for the 21st Century, Maryknool/New York, Orbis Books, 2011.

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