Tag Archives: Gustavo Gutiérrez

Nothing for Caesar

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
Matthew 22: 21

Is there anything that is not God’s?

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, ” says Psalm 24: 1.

“I am the Lord and there is no other,” according to Isaiah 45: 5, 6 in today’s first reading.

Yes, I know the question was a trap for Jesus. But so many have been entrapped by his response and hold on to an idolization of the State, of Caesar.

We not only give Caesar his money but we give him our souls.

We think that one party, one candidate, one position will bring what we want and need. But, how often are political promises nothing more than pampering to our self-interests?

As the late Jesuit priest John Kavanaugh noted: “The empire and those who vie for its throne offer us, in differing forms, an ideology of self-interest.”

Gustavo Gutiérrez, Dominican priest and founder of liberation theology, is blunt in his commentary in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year (pp. 244-245). The question is about money.

In the Pharisee’s question, there is a possible insinuation of not paying their tax and those of their keeping the money for themselves. Their would-be nationalism does not go further. Jesus is going to the root: it is necessary to eradicate all dependency on money. It is not only a question of breaking with the political domination of the emperor; it is necessary to break with the oppression that comes from the attachment to money and its possibilities of exploiting others. Jesus tells them to give the coin back to Caesar and to be liberated from money (mammon, see Mt 6:24). Only then will they be able to worship the true God and to give him what belongs to him.

José Antonio Pagola is even more blunt:

What is it that belongs to Caesar that is not God’s? Only his unjust money.

Give to God what is God’s – and there is nothing left for Caesar.

In this respect, Dorothy Day quoted Saint Hilary:

The less we ask of Caesar, the less we will have to render to Caesar.


A Kingdom wage

My thoughts are not your thoughts
and your ways are not my ways,
says the Lord.
Isaiah 55: 8

Jesus wouldn’t make it in a dog-eat-dog business world. Today’s Gospel, Matthew 20: 1-16) proves it.

The Kingdom of Heaven is like the owner of a vineyard. He needs to get the crop harvested today and so he goes out and hires workers for the normal daily wage.

These aren’t enough and so he goes out to the market place four more times and finds men idle. The lazy bums, some might say.

He asks the last group why they were standing around idle all day. “No one hired us,” they say.

Then he pays all of them the daily wage, the money needed to buy what they need for their families. Their lives depend on finding work.

Those who worked all day complained.

But, as Gustavo Gutiérrez explains in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year,

… the workers of the eleventh hour have the same right to work as the first laborers and the right for them and their families to live from that work.

I never really understood this parable of Jesus until I spent a few days in Houston twenty four years ago.

Each day I passed a corner several times and saw men standing around idle. It didn’t matter when I passed; there were almost always men there.

Once, as I passed, a pickup stopped by the corner and the men ran out to talk to the driver. Soon several jumped into the truck as the driver sped off.

They were day laborers, seeking a job for the day. They were not lazy bums standing on a street corner. They were men hoping to find a way to earn some money.

That’s the situation of people all over the world. Some seek a job for even one day – to earn some money for the family. I have been approached a number of times and asked if I had a job for a person. Even some university graduates ask me from time to time if I know of a job.

In God’s Reign, everyone would have a job with a decent wage. All would have what they need to sustain their families.

But also, in God’s Reign all would be welcomed – even the tax collector Matthew whose feast is celebrated today.

The owner of the vineyard asks, “Are you envious because I am generous?”

As José Antonio Pagola writes in Following the Footsteps of Jesus,

All our notions are overturned when we are faced with the free and unfathomable love of God. That is why it shocks us when it seems that Jesus bypassed the pious who are loaded with merits and goes precisely to those who are not entitled to any reward from God — sinner who do not observe the Law or prostitutes forbidden to enter the temple.

God is just and generous. God’s Reign is overflowing with justice and generosity.

With God, we are called to live aware of the generosity and abundance of God – not in a world defined by scarcity where each one of us looks out only for our own salvation and physical existence.

God calls us to something more.


Being Advocates

The Father will give you another Advocate
to be with you always.
John 14: 16

At the Last Supper, Jesus promised his disciples that God the Father would send another advocate, another defender, another comforter.

God does not leave us alone. God does not leave us orphans – although it sometimes appears that we live in a world where so many people seem abandoned and alone.

The last line of Psalm 66 in the Grail translation puts this beautifully:

Blessed be God who did not reject my prayer
nor withhold his love from me.

 But so many feel abandoned.

Today a friend sent me photos of Pope Francis at the Separation Wall in Bethlehem. The writing on the wall called on the pope to be an advocate: “Welcome, Pope. We need someone to speak about justice.”


I remember my visit to a Bethlehem refugee camps almost ten years ago, probably near that spot. There were kids playing in the street – as there were kids near the pope – but we entered a house that had just been dynamited by Israel forces.

Pope Francis’s invitation to the presidents of Palestine and Israel to come and pray with him at the Vatican are words of someone who wants to advocate for the poor, for the victims of violence – on all sides.

We are called, I believe, to be advocates of all those in need. God sends us an Advocate, but we too are sent to be advocates, as Gustavo notes in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year,  p. 104

The Lord is asking us to be with our sisters and brothers. Receiving the Spirit (Acts 8: 15-17) must make us become “advocates,” defenders, people who are with those who need us. We are called to serve, not impose our ideas. This presupposes our living and sharing with the,. If Jesus does not leave us orphans (Jn 14:18), neither should we leave those who need us orphans. This is true worship, sanctifying the Lord in our hearts (1 Pet 3:15).

There are so many victims of injustice, of violence, of separation walls. How will I be an advocate?


The blind man’s transformations

Praying today’s Gospel of the man born blind, John 9: 1-41, I found the account full of meaning, but one stands out for me.

The man born blind was a beggar, well-known to many but marginalized by his blindness, which many thought was due to sin.

But what happens to him is illuminative.

Jesus sees him and takes the initiative, anointing his eyes with clay and inviting him to wash in the pool of Siloam. He is then healed.

Jesus has transformed him from a blind man to a man who sees.

But then he is brought before the authorities who question him. But unlike his parents, he is not afraid to speak to them, challenging them for their ignorance, and getting himself thrown out – marginalized again.

He has been changed from a passive beggar to a man who is not afraid to speak the truth and to challenge those who would consider Jesus and himself as sinners, as outside the “chosen” ones.

Then, Jesus again takes the initiative and finds the man who had been blind.

This man who, at first, only knew that he had been healed by “a guy called Jesus” comes to a deep faith in Jesus as Lord and the Son of Man – a messianic title.

I think we can see a three-fold transformation in this Gospel.

The first one is obvious – a blind man recovers his sight. A physical transformation.

The last one is also somewhat clear. A man who hardly knew who Jesus was becomes a believer who acknowledges Him as Lord and Messiah. A spiritual transformation.

But the other transformation is just as real, but perhaps a little more difficult to name. This beggar, an outsider, a marginalized person considered a sinner, is able to lift up his head, to get up from his place of begging. He becomes a person able to speak the truth, able to clearly explain what he has experienced, even if the authorities still consider him an outcast and a sinner. He becomes a prophet to those who would deny him his dignity and would see Jesus as a sinner and a threat to their authority. A social transformation.

The healing Jesus wants is not just of our bodies, nor is it just of our spirits. Jesus wants us to be fully human, persons of dignity – not marginalized victims of an unjust society, but full members of a community.

For me, here in Honduras, this means that Jesus wants to poor to recognize and recover their dignity in the face of the elites who look down on them.

Gustavo Gutiérrez notes that

Blaming those who are ill or poor means pushing them deeper into their plight. Moreover, it prevents them from taking appropriate means to get out of these situations.

And so what Jesus does is liberate the blind man in three ways, transforming him:

As Gutiérrez also notes:

Freed from blindness, [the man born blind] grows as a human being, and finally he receives the gift of faith. Reducing the liberation of Jesus to one of these aspects would be cutting it short and impoverishing it. Nothing at all escapes Jesus’  love.

The man born blind is transformed in three separate but related ways. So we pray for our three-fold liberation and transformation – as we pray and work for the three-fold transformation and liberation of all who are impoverished or marginalized.

The quotes from Gustavo Gutiérez are taken from Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year (Orbis, 1997).

God chose the poor

Did not God choose
those who are poor in the world
to be rich in faith
and heirs of the Kingdom
that he promised to those who love him?
James 2: 5

The preferential option for the poor is central to a faith lived in the light of the Gospels.

It is an option not because we can opt out of it; it is an option because we are called to opt for the poor, to place the poor at the center of our lives, as God has.

This is not a political option, even though it has political and social ramifications. This is not an option for class warfare, although the poor often feel that the rich are fighting to keep them down.

It is above all an option for Christ – who became poor for our sake (2 Corinthians 8:9).

Pope Francis makes this very clear in paragraph 186 of his Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel:

Our faith in Christ, who became poor, and was always close to the poor and the outcast, is the basis of our concern for the integral development of society’s most neglected members.

This is just what Gustavo Gutierrez, one of the fathers of Liberation Theology, has said, as noted in In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez.

…there are “mil maneras,” a thousand ways to practice the preferential option for the poor. Finding our own way is the task of our discernment and the goal of our spirituality. What must be clear, though, is that to follow Jesus implies priority for the poor.

I want to emphasize that the preferential option for the poor is not made because the poor are somehow better than others, more virtuous or noble. Idealizing the poor would be the wrong basis for the spirituality we are describing. Often the poor are quite generous and beautiful people, but sometimes not. Nor are our motives for aiding the poor always pure; there can be a temptation to self-congratulation and ego-boosts in this work. So in our spirituality it is supremely important that each of us refines the basis of our preferential option for the poor to say: I accompany them not because they are all good, or because I am all good, but because God is good. The on-going discernment necessary to see that this is a theocentric option— centered in God’s love and life— is particularly suited to habits of communal and personal prayer, practices so central to Christian spirituality.

So let us contemplate Jesus and see how we are called to chose the poor of this world, as God has.


Light to those in darkness

I read today’s reading from Isaiah with a heavy heart.

People here in Honduras are suffering. The economy is poor; the coffee harvest is poor and the prices are low; taxes have been raised; the cost of the basic food basket is rising; violence continues and the new president thinks that a military police is the solution; there are fears of a devaluation of the currency; and more.

The people are walking in darkness.

But Isaiah promises that

The yoke that was weighing them down,
the heavy bar across their shoulders,
the rod of the oppressor –
these you have broken…

The yoke of poverty, the bar of inequality, the rod of repressive economic and political policies burden our people here.

And it’s worse than I thought.

This week I was talking with the pastor of the parish where I work. Many people, he said, many be losing their homes or their lands because of their debts.

People take out loans at the beginning of the year in the hope that the harvests – especially the coffee harvest – will yield enough to pay them back, But this year with many fields of the poor devastated by the roya fungus and with prices lower than they have been in several years, cash is hard to come by, even if one hires oneself out for the coffee harvest of the large landowners.

But the promise if Isaiah is that these burdens have been broken.

The words of Gustavo Gutiérrez speak to me:

“I do theology as one who comes from a context of deep poverty, and thus for me, the first question of theology is how do we say to the poor: God loves you?”

How do we tell them of the Good News of God’s love?

Jesus, after the darkness of the imprisonment of John the Baptist, goes out “proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom [of Heaven], and curing all kinds of sickness and disease among the people.” (Matthew 4: 23)

How can we be signs of the Kingdom, bringing healing and hope?

That is my challenge for the year.


The quote from Gustavo Gutiérrez is taken from In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutiérrez, a book I strongly recommend.



Speaking new tongues

These signs will accompany those who believe:
… they will speak new languages.
Mark 16: 17 

St. Paul

St. Paul outside the Walls

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle.

An ardent Pharisee Saul, as he was known at that time, was going to arrest followers of Jesus in Damascus. He fell to the ground, surrounded by light. (There is no account of any high horse that he fell from, though that is the common image we have of the event.) Paul went on to preach Jesus to people in many lands, opening the Way for non-Jews. After many travels, he was arrested and sent to Rome, where he was eventually beheaded.

The Gospel for today is Jesus’ sending of the apostles at the end of Mark’s Gospel. As I read it this morning I came across something that I hadn’t noticed.

Among the signs of those who believe is “speaking new languages.”

I never thought of this as a sign of belief. I just thought that learning and speaking a different language was part of what we missionaries often have to do.

But it is a sign of God’s presence, as Jesus notes.

Though I’ve been here in Honduras for more than six years, I still sometimes struggle with Spanish. (I don’t think I’ll ever get the subjunctive right.) I sometimes wonder if people can understand me.

And so I am comforted by this Gospel passage, as well as by the words of the St. Louis Jesuit’s hymn “Be Not Afraid”:

you shall speak my Word in foreign lands
and all will understand.

 But I wonder if “speaking a new language” is just being able to speak another language fluently.

What is the new language that we need to speak?

In a world where the poor are despised, where they are treated like dirt – or worse, what language do we need to speak?

In a world where people lack hope, struggling to survive or to find meaning in their lives, what language do we need to speak?

I think it’s the language of love, of friendship, of solidarity.

Gustavo Gutiérrez puts the challenge simply:

 the first question of theology is how do we say to the poor: God loves you?

That is the language we need to learn – and, “the first thing to do is listen,” as Gutiérrez says.

Paul listened to the voice that he heard on the ground near Damascus and he learned how to speak in other tongues and to speak to people in many lands.

It starts with listening – to God and all those around us. Not always easy, but part of the process of conversion.


The two quotations from Father Gustavo Gutiérrez are from In the Company of the Poor: Conversations with Dr. Paul Farmer and Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez (Orbis Books). I highly recommend this recently published book.

The triply marginalized leper

I would guess that most homilies on Sunday’s Gospel of the healing of the ten lepers (Luke 17: 11-19) focused on the lack of gratitude of the nine lepers who did not return to thank Jesus.

Thanksgiving is a critical issue, especially in societies that promote, ever so subtly, what a priest friend of mine called “entitlement spirituality.”

But I have thought for some years that there are aspects of the story that are overlooked.  The lepers are marginalized; they were treated as outcasts and sinners. They were not accepted by society.

But the leper who returned was doubly marginalized: he was a Samaritan. The Judeans of those days looked down on the Samaritans as heretics, as outside the Law.

But somehow the Samaritan leper had found some community with the other lepers. They had established a sort of alternative society – on the basis of their alienation from “normal” society.


Jesus sends the lepers to go to the priests to be reincorporated into the society. But the Samaritan would not have been accepted by the priest. He had no way to prove that he was cleansed. He experienced anew an alienation, a separation from the rest.

And so he returned to Jesus, to give him thanks. My guess is that he was also hoping to be reincorporated into a society that he saw as healthy, that did not make distinctions.

Monday morning on the place back to Honduras I opened Hugo Echegaray’s La Práctica de Jesús. In his preface to this posthumously published work, Gustavo Gutiérrez quotes from an essay by Echegaray on the leper:

In this perspective, the health of each one depends on the liberty of the people, as well as on the quality of the relationships among its members which create values of solidarity, a deep communion with regard to their historic destiny and their faith. No one can consider oneself healthy alone, independent of the rest or of the fact that one subsists in the middle of a “sick” society.

The leper could not have been accepted into the sick society of religious observances that denied his dignity. The religious society accepted the other lepers because they were now “clean,” but he would never be accepted by that society. I wonder: Did the other lepers refuse to accept him, after he was healed?

And so he returned to Jesus, knowing that in Jesus there is the promise of a Kingdom where Gentile and Jew, Samaritan and Jew, lepers and the healthy could live together.

All types of marginalization fall apart in the presence of Jesus and in His Kingdom.

And so when we pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” we are praying for an end to marginalization.



A no brainer

Yesterday I gave a ride in my truck to a woman who had been hacked with a machete by her husband. People in the village I was ran up to the truck and asked me to take her to the closest hospital 90 minutes away.

Of course, I said.

It was a no-brainer.

I didn’t have to reflect much, partly because three young women came with her. Also, I was taking several pastoral workers back to their villages after a parish zone meeting.

I had a community that let me say yes.

In today’s first reading, Moses tells the people (Deuteronomy 30: 11- 14):

This Instruction that I enjoin on you today is not too baffling for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in the sky… ,  Nor is it across the sea… No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouth and in your heart…

As Gustavo Gutiérrez writes in Sharing the Word through the Liturgical Year (p. 184), “God does not require anything superhuman. In the final analysis, God only asks something very human, namely…to love.”

Magda Trocmé, the wife of the Protestant pastor of Le Chambon, André Trocmé, opened the door of the presbytery one day during the Second World War. There was a Jewish family seeking refuge. Her response was simple, “Come in! Come in!” From that point on the village became a refuge for Jews seeking to escape; hundreds were helped to safety in Switzerland.

When we take to heart this Instruction of God and when we have a supportive community, it is easier to respond to those in need.

It is not an act of heroism.

It is merely being the human person whom God wants us to be.

It’s a no-brainer.

You can read my reflection on today’s Gospel of the Good Samaritan here.

What moves me?

In him we live and move and have out being.
Acts 17:28

Paul’s sermon to the Athenians is, in some ways, a masterpiece.

He starts from where his audience is and from what he himself has experienced. He quotes their poets. He offers an explanation for the altar to an “unknown god.”

But several verses stood out for me this morning:

“It is he who gives to everyone life and breath and everything.”
Acts 17: 25

God gives all of us everything. All is gift and all are gifted. Not just life and breath are gifts of God – but everything.

We don’t have to placate this God with sacrifices as the Greeks did with their gods; nor do we need to endlessly bargain with God, offering him something so that in return we get what we want.

If God is truly the giver of all, how can I not live with gratitude for all that is. God is gracious, giving – and so my response is gratitude, graciousness, giving to God and to all God’s creation.

And so,

“In him we live and move and are.”
Acts 17: 28

Does gratitude and the experience of all are graced and gifted move me?

Do I live with a spirit of grace?

Gustavo Gutiérrez puts it very well, in We Drink from Our Own Wells: The Spiritual Journey of a People  (p. 110):

The experience of gratuitousness is the space of encounter wit the Lord. Unless we understand the meaning of gratuitousness, there will be no contemplative dimension in our life. Contemplation is not a state of paralysis but of radical self-giving… In the final analysis, to believe in God means to live out our life as a gift from God and to look upon everything that happens in it as a manifestation of this gift.