People on the move, uprooted from their origins of place and person, stand not only at the intersection of cultures; they stand at the intersection between traditional theological disciplines that emphasize one point of view—what Ruiz indicts as “the sin of academic otherside”—and the reality of the lives of ordinary people. Often that precarious place is one of pain, a place where human dignity is overwhelmed by disengagement from real world problems such as immigration, and where global thinking can obfuscate the concrete person-centered issues.
The book has two sections. The first section, predictably from a liberation perspective, addresses “Readings Strategies.” It considers tactics for reading scripture through a broader lens. Ruiz criticizes certain accepted forms of biblical scholarship. He suggests that a narrow, non-contextual approach misses much of what a text has to say. Challenging the cliché, “Good fences make good neighbors,” Ruiz calls rather for “well-maintained gates” to allow interface among different interpretations of the scriptural texts. Rightly, he asserts that scholars must get over their suspicion of scholars from different disciplines and gain insight from them.
He broadens the notion of preferential option for the poor—a strategy which in a sense originates from above—to what he terms “the hermeneutical privilege of the poor.” What he affirms is that the exegetical insights of the poor should be voiced and valued. He calls scholars to avoid even “the narrow biblicism of a restrictive liberationist hermeneutics.” Biblical scholarship must live in the real world, addressing issues such as immigration not only for the church but for the greater community.
The second section is devoted to specific texts from the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Using selective passages beyond the Exodus experience, Ruiz illustrates the kind of work he has outlined in the first section. Abram and Sarai, the archetypical couple of Genesis, are people on the move. They are aliens, who must compromise with the powerful figures in a foreign land. Ruiz uses the sister-wife story to underline how the debasement of Sarai (“She is my sister”) gives Abram an advantage in his negotiations with Pharaoh.
This husband and wife are not simply sympathetic figures from the past, they are incarnate in the displaced people of the contemporary landscape. In the American Catholic Church today a significant portion of the congregation are not the “they,” they are the we. The immigrant population Ruiz names are a growing part of the family of Catholics. These Catholics struggle with the same power differentials and dispossession and disorientation with which Abram and Sarai struggled. They mourn their culture, their homeland, their language in an alien land.
Perhaps the most poignant chapter in the book is Chapter 8. Grounding his commentary on Matt. 20:1-16, Ruiz gives flesh to the immigrant workers who stand in hope of getting work even late in the day. This is not a parable about the generous owner of the vineyard, the success of trickle-down economics. Rather in today’s world it can be read as a telling story of power over poverty, of employer abuse and workplace assault, of dependency and human devaluation.
This is an important book. It is more than “readings from the edges.” It is a call to come to the center of the reality of displaced human families and the aching hearts of those who experience, understand, and work for change. Ruiz is a meticulous scholar whose voice is clear. His commitment to collaboration with other scholars is appropriate. It rightly drives his citation of other scholars. Nevertheless one picky negative comment is in order: the reader would benefit with less interruption with long block quotations from other scholars. Although this technique is not inappropriate in a scholarly work, it takes away from Ruiz’ excellent personal insights and writing style.
The author uses his skills as a biblical scholar to introduce a creative methodology to read, to think about, and to appropriate the scriptures. The issues he raises are not only centuries old but urgently new. The book could be used profitably in a course on liberation theology. It would be a good addition to the reading list in a morals course or even an introductory course on scripture, as it broadens the horizon of thinking for both students and professors.