|A Review of
Passion of Christ, Passion of the World.
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
With Holy Week almost upon us again, the time of the church year in which we pause to remember the arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial and resurrection of Jesus, I decided to read through Orbis Books’ new edition of Leonardo Boff’s book Passion of Christ, Passion of the World. For those who are not familiar with Boff’s work, he is one of the main figures in the liberation theology movement, and certainly the best-known Brazilian liberation theologian. I have previously read several of his other books, but had not read this one, so this seemed like a fitting time to do so.
Passion of Christ, Passion of the World is a challenging read in many regards. One needs to proceed slowly through it, digesting as she goes. Although Boff’s writing style tends toward the academic, the content of what he is saying offers a much steeper challenge than the way in which it is written. The essence of Boff’s argument is that we are called to follow Christ in entering into the suffering of the world. However, in the U.S. where not only is suffering foreign to us, but where we also go to extraordinary lengths to avoid suffering (and to cover up our own sufferings), how are we even to begin to make sense of Boff’s work? Our religious approaches here in the U.S. to the suffering and death of Christ, often serve to conceal the many ways in which our lifestyles subject others around the globe to suffering and death. To quote Boff:
An appeal to death and the cross can mask over the injustice of the practices of precisely those who are the ones who manufacture the cross and death of others (3).
I found the book’s final chapter (“How to Preach the Cross”) to be helpful in reflecting on such questions about the meaning of Christ’s suffering and death in the United States today. He develops nine ideas over the course of the chapter which I will excerpt (in an abbreviated form) here:
To preach the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ today entails the following:
1) To commit oneself and all one’s energies for a world where love, peace and a community of sisters and brothers, a world where openness and self-surrender to God, will be less difficult.
2) The suffering that comes with this commitment, the cross to be carried down this road is suffering and martyrdom for God and God’s cause in the world. These martyrs are martyrs for God. They are not martyrs for the system. They are martyrs of the system, but for God.
3) To carry the cross as Jesus carried it, then means to take up a solidarity with the crucified of the world – with those who suffer violence, who are impoverished, who are dehumanized, who are offended in their rights.
4) To suffer thus, to die for the sake of other crucified persons, involves bearing the heavy burden of the system’s inversion of values, the cross of the warped hierarchy of values against which one has committed oneself.
5) The cross, then is the symbol of the rejection and violation of the sacred rights of God and the human being. There are those who, committing themselves to the struggle to abolish the cross of the world, themselves have to suffer and bear the cross.
6) To preach the cross can mean to be invited to perform the extreme act of love and trust, in a total de-centering of self. … How do we know that this trust, this de-centering, achieves ultimate Meaning? By the resurrection. Resurrection is the fullness and manifestation of the Life that resonates within life and within death. The only way for the Christian to make this assertion is to look at the crucified Jesus – who now lives.
7) To die thus is to live. Within this death on a cross is a life that cannot be stamped out, a life that lies hidden in death itself. This life does not come out after death. This life is found in the life of love, solidarity, and courage that has so suffered and died. This is the life that, in death, is revealed in its power and its glory.
8) To preach the cross, today, is to preach the following of Jesus. … To live is to live a life founded in the Life that no cross can crucify, but can only reveal as still more victorious.
9) God is not indifferent to the pain of the victims of history. Out of love and solidarity, God becomes poor, is condemned, crucified, and murdered. God has taken on a reality that objectively contradicts God. Why does God do so? Because God does not wish some human beings to impoverish and crucify other human beings. Thus, we are shown that God’s preferred mediation is neither the glory of history nor the transparency of historical meaning. God’s preferred mediation is the concrete, real-life suffering of the oppressed.
Indeed, in these nine points, which are the culmination of Boff’s work in this volume, we have much to reflect on during this season of Holy Week, particularly within the shackles of our American privilege.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com