Asian theologian, Fr Tissa Balasuriya OMI, describes the Third World's rediscovery of Christ's message.
Christ in context
JESUS Christ yesterday, today and the same forever, says St Paul. This is true in the sense that Jesus in himself does not change, Rut it is not true of the perception and presentation of Jesus throughout the centuries.
The same four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are read and re-read by Christians of different centuries and backgrounds. Each one sees Jesus from within one's own cultural environment, concerns and predispositions.
We need not therefore be surprised that twenty centuries of Christianity present many understandings of Jesus. Even Jesus Himself asked his disciples: 'Who do men say I am?"
There is something new and very significant in the Third World reflection and writings concerning Jesus Christ. II is only from the 1970s that there is a distinct and articulate theology emerging from the dominated continents of Latin America, Africa and Asia. In this theology or theologies, Jesus — his life and teaching — having a central role. The search for an understanding of Christianity as coming from Jesus Christ is a common feature of this theological quest. There have been many publications directly on Jesus Christ in these countries. They take up the social content of the region and draw pastoral conclusions in relating Jesus Christ to their context. There are also significant differences in accents and modalities in the way Jesus Christ is presented in the different contexts of the Third World.
There has been a great flowering of theology in Latin America during the past twenty years. The Theology of Liberation is their main contribution to Christian thinking. They have been profoundly influenced by the condition of long term exploitation to which their countries have been subjected even after Independence from their European conquerors. This theology has developed from the consciousness of the structures of society that oppress them. They re-read the Scriptures from their situation and see Jesus as a Liberator. He is a revolutionary in both personal and social relations.
Many of them analyse their society with the tools of Marxist social analysis. They see class conflicts as a fact of life. They realise that Jesus himself faced a similar situation, and opted on the side of the oppressed. Hence his rejection by the religious and political leaders and crucifixion.
The resurrection of Jesus is an affirmation of life over death, of hope over despair. They themselves are motivated to commit themselves to the liberation of their people from the poverty and oppression imposed on them by military or authoritarian regimes, the local elites and foreign domination.
Latin American theology is very rich in its reflections on Jesus Christ. They have reinterpreted the priorities of Jesus in terms of the Kingdom of God and hence the Mission of the Church. They see practical commitment to love and justice as basic to discipleship of Jesus and to theologizing as well.
Latin Americans are still
mainly from among the white community there — Gustavo Cutierez being a significant exception due to his partly native parentage. Hence issues of race, of cultures, of traditional religions, beliefs and practices do not yet enter very Mad' into their theology. They are only in the beginnings in this regard. Their contribution to Christology is all the same unique and is in the process of rapid development.
The African understanding of Jesus Christ is very much influenced by the general ma e a universal spirit,Al AfricanGod, i igeifv ng security eitriaodilliifeon. al religions have a profound influence on the thinking and way of life of most people as its Asia. The understanding of Jesus is as one who gives a further value to this tradition and culture, to black people and the African way of life that is communitarian and based on the
There is an insistence on the respect for African culture, authenticity and community. The humanity of Jesus is given much importance as relating to the aspirations of African people. Some see Jesus as the "ancestor", linking the present with the past. He is the reconciler and healer of physical and spiritual ills. The independent churches foster an expression of faith that is closely related to popular African conflict for independence and religiosity. places where the human rights has been acute, Christian thinkers articulate a theology of liberation that is somewhat similar to the thinking of South American theologians with, of course, a reflection on the marginalisation of black people. Jesus is seen by such writers as a liberator and a revolutionary. In some countries the socialist current of thinking influences the Christological reflections of Christians.
African Christianity is vibrant and expanding. II is contributing a more personal and dynamic perception of Jesus Christ to the modern world.
In Asia the theologies of social liberation are inspired by the teaching, life and death/resurrection of Jesus. This is particularly strong in South Korea and the Philippines. In China and Vietnam their revolution, struggles and victories have been accompanied by an expression of Jesus as a revolutionary and motivator for a socialistic society.
Perhaps the Third World theology has a mission to make known an essential but neglected dimension of Jesus Christ. They found Jesus presented as the transcendant Christ up in the heavans and brought him back to history and the struggles of social existence.
Fr Balasuriya founded the Centre for Society and Religion in Sir Lanka, and is a leading member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians. Over the next three weeks, theologians from Latin America, Asia and Africa will describe the interpretation of the message of Christ in their continents.