Miguel DE LA TORRE. The Politics of Jesús: A Hispanic Political Theology. Lanham-Boulder-New York-London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015. xv + 201 pages. ISBN 978-1-4422-5036-9, paperback, $23.00; ISBN 978-1-4422-5036-6, eBook, $22.99. Reviewed by John T. FORD, The Catholic University of America, Washington, DC.
Every Christmas, a Washington museum displays dozens of Nativity scenes, which variously depict Jesus as being birthed in a Palestinian cave, a Belgian stable, an African hut, a Mexican ramada, etc. Like these Nativity depictions, “Christology at times tells us more about the culture from which the Jesus narrative is interpreted than anything specific about who historically or theologically was Jesus” (1). In marked contrast to the scholarly quest for the historical Jesus are numerous ethnic portraits of Christ as Black Messiah, Asian guru, Mediterranean peasant, Borderland reject, or Hispanic Jesús.
According to De La Torre, the contrast between the Hispanic Jesús and the Euroamerican Jesus is both pervasive and divisive: brown versus white, marginalized versus dominant, poor versus rich, powerless versus powerful, liberating practice versus doctrinal orthodoxy, etc. In other words, Hispanic eyes envision the events in the life of Jesús in ways radically different from Euroamerican church-goers and academics; for example, the conventional telling of the Christmas story often “romanticizes the birth of Jesus, thus masking the radical political implications of the event” (26). In actuality, however, “María was forced, like any other barn animal, to give birth amid the unhygienic surroundings of an outbuilding” (27), as is the lot of many poor Hispanics in the United States.
This book is doubly thought-provoking: first, in its interpreting the events of the life of Jesús from an Hispanic perspective; second, in its repeated paralleling of Gospel parables and teachings with the Hispanic experience, including the author’s; for example, the rich young ruler (Mt. 13:22) becomes a “CEO of a multinational corporation” (109) and the teaching of Jesús is sharply rephrased: “To ignore the cry of those who are marginalized is to deny Jesús’ message, regardless of whether or not we confess our belief in Jesús and proclaim his name with our lips” (110). On occasion, however, the parallelism seems hyper-imaginative; for example, in commenting on the sojourn in Egypt (Mt. 2:13-23): “I imagine he [Jesús] was mocked as a child for speaking with a ‘funny’ accent or looked down upon for dressing differently from all the other Egyptian boys” (35).
In regard to the author’s characterizations of Jesús, some are quite familiar, indeed standard, in both Hispanic/Latino and Liberation theologies: Jesús as Compañero, Migrant, Liberator; other descriptions are rather unique: Jesús as Ajiaco (69-71) and Bilingüe (73-80); somewhat problematic is the depiction of Jesús as “Trickster” (88-91), although the author might have mentioned that the pícaro has been a staple of Spanish literature since La Vida de Lazarillo de Tormes, published in 1545; in contrast, describing Jesús as Joderon seems unduly provocative at best, offensive at worst (158-165). On the whole, while these vignettes of Jesús provide interesting insights into the life and teaching of Jesús, a systematic Christology is lacking. Similarly, while there are many incisive insights in the author’s commentaries on the teachings and parables of Jesús, one is left wondering how to put “the politics of Jesús” into practice?Finally, after confessing, “I don’t know (and I really don’t care) if there actually is an afterlife” (177), the author concludes: “The question that is left to consider is if the followers of Jesus will discover their salvation by joining disenfranchised Hispanics in implementing the politics of Jesús” (178). One wonders whether such an understanding of “salvation” will really motivate either group?