Rohr on Reading the Bible from the Side of the Poor

We see in the Gospels that it’s the lame, the poor, the blind, the prostitutes, the drunkards, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outsiders, the foreigners, et cetera, who tend to follow Jesus. It is those on the inside and the top who crucify him (elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, and Roman occupiers). Shouldn’t that tell us something really important about perspective? Every viewpoint is a view from a point, and we need to critique that perspective if we are to see truth.We fail to appreciate liberation theology because of 1,700 years of interpreting the scriptures from the perspective of the educated clergy class, rather than from the perspective of the marginalized. After Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire, we largely stopped reading the Bible from the side of the poor and the oppressed. We read it from the side of the establishment and, I am sorry to say, from the priesthood, instead of from people hungry for justice and truth. No wonder Jesus said, “I did not come for the healthy but for the sick” (Mark 2:17).

Adapted from CAC Foundation Set: Gospel Call to Compassionate Action
(Bias from the Bottom) and Contemplative Prayer

(CD, DVD, MP3)

Author: DanutM

Anglican theologian. Former Director for Faith and Development Middle East and Eastern Europe Region of World Vision International

6 thoughts on “Rohr on Reading the Bible from the Side of the Poor”

  1. This required a response. in context below

    “We see in the Gospels that it’s the lame, the poor, the blind, the prostitutes, the drunkards, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outsiders, the foreigners, et cetera, who tend to follow Jesus. It is those on the inside and the top who crucify him (elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, and Roman occupiers).”

    That was revolutionary, clearly. He didn’t just come for the winners of the world. But neither did he shun them. The rich young ruler was offered eterenal life, but he didn’t accept it. Paul, later, chose leaders in the communities he evangelized to start fellowship and churches.

    “Shouldn’t that tell us something really important about perspective? Every viewpoint is a view from a point, and we need to critique that perspective if we are to see truth.”

    That’s clever, a viewpoint is a view from a point. And to finish the thought then, we need to pull many points of view together to see more of the truth. GK Chesterton said that was wrong with the world is that we fail to see what is right with the world. The problem with viewpoints is that they aren’t whole. That doesn’t make them invalid. Remember the story of the blind men “looking” at the elephant. The man who felt the tail said the creature was most like a rope and the man who felt the end of the tail said the creature was a like a brush. The man who felt the foot said it was like a pillar, the one who felt the body said it was like a wall.

    “We fail to appreciate liberation theology because of 1,700 years of interpreting the scriptures from the perspective of the educated clergy class, rather than from the perspective of the marginalized.”

    No I think we fail to appreciate liberation theology because it was manipulative and patronizing and diminished freedom.

    “After Christianity became the established religion of the Roman Empire, we largely stopped reading the Bible from the side of the poor and the oppressed. We read it from the side of the establishment and, I am sorry to say, from the priesthood, instead of from people hungry for justice and truth. No wonder Jesus said, “I did not come for the healthy but for the sick” (Mark 2:17).”

    Jesus came for the Gentile and the Jew, for all nations, for the rich and the poor. We are all sinners in need of a savior and in that we are no different. Paul also said that the Jews rejection of him was so that the Gentiles might be saved. Perhaps the rejection by the strong and powerful is so that the poor and sick might be saved. But make no mistake, he offers that grace to everyone if they will take it.

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    1. KIm,
      1. I don’t think Fr. Rohr suggests that we should accept the lifestyles of these people. In fact, just the opposite, as he makes clear in today’s meditation (see the quote on Facebook).
      2. I agree with you on viewpoints. Yet, we still need them, to take us of balance (and out of our complacency).
      3. Your analysis of liberation theology (LT) is, I think, reductionist and mostly unfair. I used to do the same (mostly because of its Marxist roots), before studying it better. Not all liberationists are the same. For one thing, LT called us to read the Gospel again ‘with a bias for the poor’, as it was intended, not like we did the majority of church history after Constantine.This is not a little thing. I have friends in Latin America who are much more Evangelical than I am and who decry the demise of LT, especially as Pentecostalism started to become mainstream and started to loose its social dimension.
      4. I don’t need to comment on the last point. I doubt Fr Rohr would deny that. He only wanted to make a point. And he made it, as your comment proves.
      Kim, we are living in more or less affluent societies. You have to admit, in your more lucid moments, that this gives us blinders. That is why we need prophets to take us off balance, with such ‘off balance’ statements. Jesus did the same.
      We desperately need to change our points of view. I would invite you with me to see some of the utterly poor communities where we work, even here in Romania, an EU member. Let alone in places like Afghanistan. But I am sure you have your poor there. Make a point to spend some time with them on a regular basis. It will do a lot of good to your soul.
      One former colleagues in WV, who is retired now in California, spends every week a few hours reading the Bible with the homeless. He is Brazilian and that is how he keeps his sanity in the affluence surrounding him.

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  2. La théologie de la libération nait « d’une indignation éthique devant la pauvret& et la marginalisation de grandes masses de notre continent » Leonard Boff ; c’est une théologie vécue et écrite de « l’inverse de l’histoire » (G. Gutierrez)

    « Si la situation historique de dépendance et de la domination de deux tiers de l’humanité, avec ses trente millions de morts, chaque année, de faim ou de dénutrition, ne devient aujourd’hui le point de départ de toute théologie chrétienne, y compris dans les pays riches et dominats, la théologie ne pourra situer et concrétiser historiquement ses thèmes fondamentaux……il faut sauver la théologie de son cynisme. » (Hugo Assemann)

    « La théologie de la libération signifie donc ; une réflexion critique sur la praxis humaine (des hommes en général et des chrétiens en particulier) ) la lumière de la praxis de Jésus et des exigences de le fois. » Leonardo Boff.

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  3. « La théologie de la libération exige une utilisation renouvelée de la méditation herméneutique, en d’autres termes elle n’interprète l’Ecriture et les sources de la tradition chrétienne dans l’abstrait, mais à partir d’une situation politique et sociale déterminée, lue avec la méditation socio – analytique. C’est avec la méditation herméneutique que la lecture de la réalité sociale se transforme en lecture théologique de cette réalité. Le processus de l’articulation théologique consiste en ceci ; au moyen du concept proprement théologique de salut transformer le concept sociologique de la libération afin de produire une proposition théologique telle que la libération est le salut. (Clodovis Boff)

    Dans la théologie universitaire le cercle herméneutique ne fonctionnerait pas. La théologie universitaire déduit les réponses éternelles du contenu de la révélation, considéré d’un point de vue intemporel, et elle les applique. La théologie de la libération, au contraire remet en fonction le cercle herméneutique ; on part d’une situation concrète, d’où surgissent des questions actuelles, et avec celles-ci on se retourne envers la révélation. De la révélation ainsi interrogée vient une réponse qui éclaire la situation individuelle et sociale de celui qui interroge. Ainsi serrait né la théologie de la libération ; de la remise en route du cercle herméneutique, qui libère la théologie de la fausse universalité. La théologie de la libération réaliserait ainsi aussi, une libération de la théologie. (Rosino Givellini, Panorama de la théologie au XX siècle).

    I am adding this because I find it incorrect to say that once the chruch became institutionalized it stopped reading the Bible form the stand point of the poor. We are blaming everything on Constantin but that is a lack of knowledge. Une démagogie

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    1. Blaming everything on Constantine is reductionist. Not taking in consideration the reversal he brought about is dangerous, I think.
      Siding with the rich and the powerful always blinds us. No exception.

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