As social justice minded Latina/o Christians, we can find great hope in the example of Jesus. Like Chicana/o activists of the 1960’s, Jesus also had a “Plan” and he developed a “movimiento.” Born into a borderlands context of imperialism and cultural nepantla, Jesus declared a fourth way: El Plan Espiritual de Galilee.
Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news! Mark 1: 14-15 (NIV)
Galilee. Jesus began his movement in Galilee. As we’ve discussed, Galilee was a borderlands region and symbol of cultural mestizaje and multiple rejection. Jesus was a young adult, working class, “mestizo” from the “hood.” He was conceived to a single mom. God became flesh and launched his “movimiento” among those who were despised and rejected by both their Roman colonizers and the elite of their own people. He didn’t go to the big city and seek recruits among the religious, political, and economic elite. He didn’t go to the Beverly Hills or Harvard or the Upper East Side of Manhattan of his day. He didn’t go to a modern day “Latino Beverly Hills” like South Florida or Hacienda Heights. He started in what today would be East L.A., the Artesia Community Guild, or Spanish Harlem. To change the system, Jesus had to start with those who were excluded from the system. This also reveals the intentionality and inclination of God’s heart towards the poor and marginalized of every society. In fact, from a biblical standpoint, although God loves all people equally, he shows unique concern for immigrants, the poor and all who are socially marginalized. One Brown theologian calls this the Galilee principle: “what human beings reject, God chooses as his very own.”
Kingdom of God. In the context of deep longing for liberation by his own colonized people, and against the backdrop of centuries-old biblical expectations, Jesus proclaimed that he was King and Lord. As King, he came to establish the long awaited rule and reign of God upon the earth which would transform every aspect of our lives and the world. The “good news” was that Jesus came to make us and the whole world new.
This includes everything messed up and broken in our world–-whether personal, familial, social, or global. It includes our personal emotional brokenness and dysfunctional family relationships, but also poverty, colonialism, racism, slavery, human trafficking, oppression of immigrants, warfare, lack of clean water, AIDS, gang violence, and lack of educational opportunity. God wants to transform all of us, and all things. This holistic focus of the good news is referred to by Brown Theologians as “misión integral.” In the words of Brown Theologian Rene Padilla, misión integral is “the mission of the whole church to the whole of humanity in all its forms, personal, communal, social, economic, ecological and political.” This is Brown Soteriology--a Latina/o view of salvation.
The Apostle Paul articulated the holistic nature of El Plan Espiritual de Galilee in his letter to the Colossians:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1: 15-20 (NRSV)
The spirit of misión integral is likewise communicated by John in Apocalipsis:
“El que estaba sentado en el trono dijo: «¡Yo hago nuevas todas las cosas!" Apocalipsis 21:5
The restoration and redemption of Jesus also encompasses our entire fractured human family. Because we have turned our backs against God, we have also turned our backs against each other. Women and men are separated by sexism and machismo; ethnic groups are divided by selfishness, materialism, and pride; mixed race individuals are divided against others because of the social construction of monoracial identity; and, the so-called “legal” are divided against those without papers because our country desires cheap labor but does not want to recognize the full humanity of immigrants. Jesus came to reconcile all human beings to himself and to one another. There is no room for “oppositional identities”; the goal is the Beloved Community.
The multicultural vision of Christ’s beloved community is cast in Revelation 7: 9-10 (NRSV):
After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,
“Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
Although the good news of Jesus is for the whole human family, it goes first to the poor and all who are marginalized. Like a loving father, God loves all his children equally, but shows special concern for those of his children who suffer most. Immigrants, refugees, and the poor bare the brunt of a sinful and broken world, and they feel first-hand, the destructive effects of sin most directly. God’s unique concern for them is reflected in more than 2,000 verses of sacred Scripture. It is clearly reflected in Jesus’ “Nazareth Manifesto,” as well as in his famous beatitudes.
According to the Gospel of Luke, we are told that Jesus launched his public career in his hometown of Nazareth by reading these words from the scroll of Isaiah:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4: 18-19 (NRSV)
From this passage in Luke, we learn that the “good news” of God’s Kingdom was first proclaimed to the “poor,” the “captives,” the “blind” and the “oppressed”—the Nazarenes, Galileans, and Jewish underclass of Jesus’ day. Riling under the double burden of Roman colonialism and economic and spiritual oppression by the elites of their own people, they needed first to hear the announcement of God’s liberation. Though they seemed to be weaker in the eyes of the Pharisees, Sadduccees, and ruling elite, Jesus considered them indispensable; though they were thought to be less honorable, Jesus gave them greater honor; Jesus gave greater honor to those who lacked it (1 Corinthians 12: 22-25). He went first to those “outside the gate” of institutional power and authority.
We find this same divine predilection towards the poor in Jesus’ famous “blessings” and “woes” found in Luke, chapter 6.
20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said:
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 “Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
25 “Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep. Luke 6: 20-25
As will be discussed in greater detail in chapter eight, Brown Theologians refer to God’s unique concern for the socially and economically disenfranchised as “the preferential option for the poor.” In the words of Gustavo Gutiérrez,
“The entire Bible, beginning with the story of Cain and Abel, mirrors God’s predilection for the weak and abused of human history. This preference brings out the gratuitous or unmerited character of God’s love. The same revelation is given in the evangelical Beatitudes, for they tell us with the utmost simplicity that God’s predilection for the poor, the hungry, and the suffering is based on God’s unmerited goodness to us.”
God’ preferential option for the poor, the weak, the least members of society runs throughout the Bible and cannot be understood apart from the absolute freedom and gratuitousness of God’s love…For God, therefore, “the last will be first, and the first will be last”…God’s love, and therefore what God demands of us, leaps over these boundaries and goes out in a free and generous search of those whom society marginalizes and oppresses…Universality and preference mark the proclamation of the kingdom. God addresses a message of life to every human being without exception, while at the same time God shows preference for the poor and the oppressed.”
It is also of paramount importance to note that the redemption and reconciliation of Jesus also includes a “preferential option for mujeres.” Men and women are both deeply loved by God, but, in a fallen world characterized by sexism, misogyny, and machismo, women often bare the brunt of sinful gendered relationships. And when God sees one of his daughters abused or exploited by one of his sons, God does not stand idly back. Jesus desires his sisters to thrive in the full image of God in which they have been made, and for them to take their rightful place as spiritual leaders, “mujeristas,” within the Church. In the words of path-breaking “mujerista theologian,” Ada María Isasi-Díaz:
“In the mujerista God revindicates the divine image and likeness of women. The mujerista is called to gestate new women and men: a strong people. Mujeristas are anointed by God as servants, prophets and witnesses of redemption. Mujeristas will echo God’s reconciling love; their song will be a two-edged sword, and they will proclaim the gospel of liberation.”
Repent and Believe the Good News
“Repent.” Greek: “metanoeite.” Have a new mind. Think differently. Concientización. Get “woke.” Change the way you are thinking about how you are living your life and how you can change the world. El Plan Espiritual de Galilee calls us to follow Jesus and learn from him about how to bring about liberation for ourselves and this broken world. We must stop thinking like an Essene. We are not going to change the world by withdrawing into the desert. Nor will we change the world through political compromise like the Herodians and Sadduccees. Though it might seem romantic to some, we are also not going to find liberation from empire by mixing religiosity with violence as the Pharisees and Zealots attempted—that did not, and does not, end well. No, if we want to change the world, we must do an about face, change of direction, and first believe the good news that Jesus has brought the Kingdom of God—and choose to follow him and his ways. He is the Way. This is the starting point. Jesus is King, and he came to bring the healing love and reign of God to us and to everything that is broken in the world.
When Jesus gives us eyes to see, and allows us to understand El Plan Espiritual de Galilee, it is La Buena Nueva! When we finally get it, it is “like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field,” or “like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.” Matthew 13: 44-46 (NRSV). The scales fall from our eyes. We are made new. Nothing can contain our joy. We are ready to change the world!
After we hear and believe the good news of Jesus’ kingdom announcement, the next step is to follow Jesus in discipleship. As Jesus called the 12, so he beckons us, “come, follow me.” To be a disciple of Jesus is to be his student or mentee. And the goal of being Jesus’ disciple is to become like him in both character and action. As we walk with him each day in the big and “lo cotidiano,” he teaches us, heals us, and transforms us from the inside out to make us more like him. As we walk with Jesus, he sends us to where he has already been at work—among the poor, the suffering, the immigrant, and all who are cast aside. He acts through us to bring his Kingdom to bear in every space of hurt so that God’s Kingdom might come on earth as it is in heaven. He sends us out in “mision integral” to serve as agents of God’s reconciliation, redemption, and justice.
Jesus’ offer of discipleship is extended to all. The revolutionary nature of discipleship is easy to miss without knowing the history of this word and practice. In the days of Jesus, the privilege of being the disciple of a rabbi was limited by race, gender, and formal academic achievement. Only Jewish boys were allowed to become disciples after successfully navigating a rigorous, three-tiered religious educational system. The three levels of Jewish education were called: Bet Sefer (House of the Book), Bet Talmud (House of Learning), and Bet Midrash (House of Study). Notwithstanding its exclusivity, it was an extraordinary educational system for its day. Bet Sefer lasted four years, and as part of its curriculum, students memorized the first five books of the Bible —-Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Only those considered gifted were allowed to move on to the next level of Bet Talmud. Bet Talmud consisted of the memorization of the remaining 34 books of the Jewish Old Testament. Bet Midrash, or House of Study, was the third and final level of study. Bet Midrash was restricted to the most elite students, for it involved becoming a “disciple” of a well-known rabbi, and eventually, becoming a rabbi oneself. Being a rabbi, in turn, was one of the most revered and well-respected positions one could hold. Those who did not make it up the educational ranks returned home to apprenticeships as farmers, fishermen, carpenters, shepherds, etc.
As part of the ritual of becoming a disciple, a successful student of Bet Talmud would approach a well-known rabbi and declare: “Rabbi, I want to be your disciple.” A period of theological questioning would then ensue, and, if the test was passed, the rabbi would invite the student into the sacred bond of discipleship. The rabbi would say, “Come, follow me.” At that point, the disciple would leave his father, mother, family, friends, and community to follow the rabbi. From that point on, the disciple’s main task was to learn from the rabbi and become like him. The main way this was accomplished was by spending every waking moment with the rabbi. In fact, we are told that disciples would follow their rabbis so closely that at the end of the day they would literally be covered in dust from their teacher’s feet. A saying was even circulated among disciples which admonished them to “cover yourself with the dust of your rabbi’s feet.” Following 16 years of apprenticeship with a rabbi, Bet Midrash was completed and, at the age of 30, one could begin their own career as a rabbi.
It is within this highly exclusive educational and religious context that Jesus called Andrew, James, and John to be his first disciples. He broke all the rules when he told these fishermen, rabbinic school flunk outs to, “come, follow me.” You could even say that Jesus invented affirmative action. But the revolutionary nature of El Plan Espiritual de Galilee did not stop with an expansion of discipleship among a broader category of Jewish men. Following his resurrection, Jesus commanded the remaining 11 disciples:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28: 18-20 (NRSV).
In this passage, Jesus makes a dramatic and earth-shattering announcement to his earliest students: He tells them that the call to spiritual discipleship should no longer be limited to males, and that it was no longer the sole privilege of any particular ethnic or cultural group. Jesus, the rabbi and messiah, invites all people—male and female, from every nation of the world, and every socio-economic background– to be his disciples. No one is left out. This where El Plan Espiritual de Galilee becomes personal. Jesus is not only King and Lord who came to make the whole world new, he is Teacher and Mentor who calls us to walk so intimately with him that we are covered in the dust of his feet. As he teaches us, heals us, and transforms us, he sends us out among the Galilees--and Jerusalems--of the world to pronounce the good news of El Plan Espiritual de Galilee and to be agents of his redemption, justice and reconciliation. This is the message which “Brown Christians” have celebrated and lived out for the past 500 years. This is the good news upon which the “Brown Church” stands and is called to embody. This is “La Buena Nueva.”