Monday, December 7, 2015

The Peasants of Solentiname and the Parables (part 2)

The Good Samaritan


The peasants’ interpretations of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Cardenal 1979: 3:251-256) include insights that echo recent social-scientific criticism-informed analyses of the parable (see David B. Gowler, “‘At His Gate Lay a Poor Man’: A Dialogic Reading of Luke 16:19–31,” Perspectives in Religious Studies 32:3 (2005) 249–265). One example is noted below (which could be categorized as "limited good").

A brief summary of some of the conversations:

Felipe begins the discussion by stating that the rich man symbolizes all who are rich and Lazarus denotes all who are poor. He concludes that the story is simple: Jesus condemns the rich, and the poor are saved. Cardenal notes that the rich man is never called evil; he is only called rich. Others respond to this observation bluntly:

Little Adan: “Because he was happy”
Elvis: “While the other was screwed.”

Cardenal notes that Abraham has the same response in Luke 16:25. Felipe then interprets the parable to mean that there should be no rich or poor; all should live equally both in this world and the next. Alejo agrees: the rich man should not have thrown parties every day—just every once in a while—and he should have invited Lazarus to those parties.

As the congregation interprets the parable in their in Nicaraguan contexts, their earthy and apparently simple responses are often profound expressions of their conviction that Jesus and his parables were alive, present with them, and actively working with and through them:

Gloria: The rich man’s sin was that he had no compassion. Poverty was at his door and that didn’t disturb him at his parties.

Julio: Now there are lots of Lazaruses that the rich have at their doors of their parties.

Cardenal: And the poor man is badly off because the rich man is well off, or the rich man is well off because the poor man is badly off. There are poor people because there are rich people, and there are rich people because there are poor people. And rich people’s parties are at the cost of the poor people (cf. Gowler 2005).

William takes the interpretation even further. He notes that the parable was commonly used to exploit the poor by convincing them to endure their poverty patiently in the expectation that they will receive their reward in heaven.  Felipe agrees:

Felipe: As I see it, this passage was rather to threaten the rich so they wouldn’t go on exploiting; but it seems it turned out the opposite: it served to pacify the people.
. . .
Julio: There is no point in this story being for [the rich] if they don’t read it, and if they do read it they pay no heed. The rich man of this parable cares nothing for God; and that’s the way the rich still are nowadays.

Cardenal: I believe the parable was not to console the poor but rather to threaten the rich; but, as you said, William, it has had the opposite effect, because the rich weren’t going to heed it. But Christ himself is saying that in this parable: that the rich pay no attention to the Bible.

Laureano: In the churches in the big cities you see exactly the same picture that’s painted here . . . .

Felipe: Because for [the rich] it’s like reading a bunch of nonsense . . . .

Oscar: It seems like it doesn’t do any good to be reading the Bible, then, because if you don’t want to change the social order, you might as well be reading any damned thing, you might as well be reading any stupid book.


Cardenal: It seems to me that Jesus’ principal message is that the rich aren’t going to be convinced even with the Bible, not even with a dead man coming to life (and not even with Jesus’ resurrection . . . ).

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