For the first 300 years after Jesus’ death, Christians were the oppressed minority, rebels hiding in catacombs. But by the year 400, Christians had changed places. We moved from the catacombs to the basilicas. That is when we started reading the Bible not as subversive literature but as establishment literature.
Throughout time, the vast majority of people have been poor, vulnerable, or oppressed in some way (i.e., “on the bottom”), experiencing life in terms of a need for change. Those who wrote the books and controlled the social institutions, however, have primarily been the comfortable and privileged people at the top. Much of history has been recorded from the side of the winners, except for the unique revelation of the Bible, continuing with the Gospels. The Bible reveals a path of humility and compassion in the face of oppression, culminating in the torture and execution of Jesus.
We see in the Gospels — beginning with Jesus’ own story of being an outcast — that it’s those on the bottom or outside society who tend to follow Jesus: the lame, poor, blind, prostitutes, drunkards, tax collectors, and foreigners. Those on the inside and at the top crucify him: elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, scribes, and Roman occupiers. Shouldn’t that tell us something important about perspective? As Richard Rohr often says, every viewpoint is a view from a point, and we need to critique our own perspective if we are to see and follow truth in all its nuance and respect the truth and perspective of others — even when it conflicts with our own.
When Christians began to gain positions of power and privilege, we then also began to ignore segments of Scriptures, especially the Sermon on the Mount, in order to maintain our empire. But when the Bible is read through the eyes of vulnerability — what we call the “preferential option for the poor” or the “bias from the bottom” — it will always be liberating and transformative, empowering in a completely different way. Read this way, Scripture will not be used to oppress or impress. The question is no longer “How can I maintain my special and secure status?” but “How can we all grow and change together?”
When we choose to live in close proximity to the bottom and in solidarity with suffering, we can be used as instruments of transformation and liberation for others.
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