Ad Fontes

Politics, Theology and Christian Humanism


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Whoever would call their brother ‘raca’?

Raca!

Today, the Fourth Sunday before Lent, we continued reading the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s Gospel in church. The chunk of gospel appointed for today was Matthew 5.21-37, a fairly hefty chunk of moral instruction covering murder, anger, name calling, adultery, divorce, oaths and promises. I didn’t preach a very good sermon, getting far too bogged down in a process-like interpretation of collective responsibility for ethics and the liberation of understanding that sin is a normal part of ‘fallen’ human existence, albeit non-essential (for Christ was without sin).

Apart from my missing the mark, I noticed that the original Greek text of Matthew 5.22 includes the non-Greek word raca (ρακα, raka, or ραχα, racha). This is one of the handful of Aramaic words and phrases that litter the New Testament, and the gospels in particular, where the Greek text merely transliterates the Aramaic in to Greek letters as best it can (fitting Aramaic into Greek letters is an awkward fit at the best of times). When we translate the Bible into English we then have a choice of leaving the translated Aramaic in, as we do for Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani, or translating it into English too. Where there is a Greek gloss with the phrase, as there is for Eloi, Eloi, it doesn’t matter that we’ve left this foreign language there: it comes with a translation. However, for the word raca in Matthew 5.22, we are given no translation help. Some translators leave it in, some ‘translate’ it to English.

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Óscar Romero on sin and the liberation struggle

Oscar RomeroTomorrow, 24 March, will be the thirtieth anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero of San Salvador. San Romero is remembered for his radical faith that compelled him to take a stand against the US-backed right-wing military government of El Salvador. Although often associated with liberation theology, the Marxist theological movement that began in Latin America, Romero rose through the ranks of the church as a staunch conservative, demanding obedience to the church hierarchy and the government, and being openly critical of Marxist priests and the guerilla fighters.

However, it was the assassination in 1977 of Romero’s friend, the outspoken Jesuit liberation theologian Rutilio Grande García, who set up base church communities (Christian worker’s communes) in the poorest districts of the country, that was something of an epiphany to him, and foreshadowing of his own death. Romero said, “If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path”. Óscar Romero began to speak out against the assassinations and in defence of the poor. He remained critical of the Marxist guerillas, but grew in sympathy for liberation theology.

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