El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán: Vicente Leñero’s Adaptation of the Gospel to Contemporary Mexico

El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán:
Vicente Leñero’s Adaptation of the Gospel to Contemporary Mexico

Angel-Martín Rodríguez-Pérez, Western Oregon University

Vicente Leñero is a distinguished Mexican writer who has published innovative novels and plays, and he has also worked as a journalist. Leñero is a combination of practicing Catholic and progressive intellectual, something relatively rare in Mexico. To a varying degree throughout his literary output,[1] Christian values come to the fore, particularly the challenge to love one’s neighbor in a country with vast social class differences. Nowhere is this more evident than in his novel El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán[2] (The Gospel of Lucas Gavilán), a faithful and bold appropriation of the Gospel of Luke, whose message of a multifaceted Jesus allows Leñero to incorporate many spiritual, cultural, and political aspects that make up the fabric of Mexican society. The novel, published in Spain, has met with moderate success in Mexico because of its controversial nature. American critic John M. Lipski calls the novel “a poignant and powerful transplantation of the Gospel to the modern world, in particular to his [Leñero’s] native Mexico.”[3]

In this essay, I comment on the salient characteristics of Leñero’s appropriation of the Gospel of Luke, which is heavily influenced by liberation theology, a Latin American ideological movement that proposes a return to a simpler, primitive Church that underlines the liberating power of Jesus Christ and his identification with the poor and that emphasizes his earthly efforts at building the kingdom of God. In El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán we find a Jesucristo Gómez who, in his successsful imitatio Christi, debunks traditional christologies (which stress stoicism and passivity) to proclaim that the kingdom of God is among us by loving his neighbor through subjective “miracles” that anyone can do. Jesucristo’s revolutionary ideology and defense of the poor clash with the Establishment and lead to his torture and death. However, at the end of the novel Leñero vindicates the Church, indicating that, if it reformed, it would be the best agent for social change. Throughout the essay, I will highlight textual parallels between the Gospel of Luke and the novel as well as the similarities in the socioeconomic and religious conditions in Jesus’ time and in contemporary Mexico. Finally, I will discuss, at different points in the article, Leñero’s use of drawings by the nineteenth-century French painter Gustave Doré, who is famous for his vivid illustrations of the Bible.

El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán is made up of short passages and parables that follow closely the textual sequence of the Gospel of Luke, which presents events from the life of Jesus of Nazareth in chronological order. However, Leñero’s Jesucristo lives in Mexico, not Nazareth. Each subsection of the novel is headed by its corresponding Bible verse. Mexican geography, language, and culture also lend the novel coherence. Jesucristo lives, eats, speaks, and looks just like a typical Mexican bricklayer: he is “dark skinned” (41), with “unbuttoned shirt, his old jeans, sandals” (181). Jesucristo travels to many parts of Mexico where there is injustice, including the capital (where he is born), the surrounding states, and remote Chiapas. He even plans a visit to the Chicanos. Throughout his life Jesucristo is an informed critic of the system, which earns him many friends but also enemies. Eventually, the Church and the oligarchy have him jailed and murdered.

One of Leñero’s main intentions seems to be to introduce Jesus Christ to new Christians. Both Luke’s Prologue to the third Gospel and Lucas’s “Prólogo” are addressed to a certain Theophilus/Teófilo, which in Greek means “lover of God.” Luke/Lucas try to clarify the life of Jesus to their friend Theophi­lus/Teófilo, who could be any new Christian, a broad audience indeed, so that this new Christian may defend his faith. Thus both texts belong to the genre of the apologia, “a classic defense of the truth upon which the Gospel rests for those troubled by doubt or opposition.”[4] In the Mexican context, Leñero’s translation serves a broad readership since few Catholics read the Bible regularly and, like new Christians, are generally ill-informed in Biblical matters.[5] This new awareness would be the best defense of their faith. However, at this point we must ask who the intended audience of Leñero’s novel is and how many Mexicans are likely to read it. I would argue that not many are likely to read it and that the novel is meant to influence an educated audience, including the clergy and the middle and upper classes. The first is because Mexicans, in general, are not in the habit of reading, particularly novels, even though this novel has much in its favor, particularly its relative simplicity: it uses everyday Mexican Spanish and is a compelling, well-written book. The second is because it is the clergy and the upper-middle classes that possess the power to bring about meaningful social change.

Both Luke’s and Lucas’s texts spring from a dissatisfaction with the circulating stories about Jesus’ life. Whereas Luke feels that the Gospels before him do not do justice in depicting Jesus’ life as the Savior of the whole world, Lucas (the fictitious narrator, and Leñero’s mouthpiece) attempts to portray a practical-minded, liberating Jesucristo Gómez. That is to say, Lucas’s intent is to take Jesus away from the established Church and give him back to the masses, which is one of the main tenets of liberation theology. Thus, El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán is inspired by “the current trends in Latin American theology,” Lucas explains in the “Prólogo” to the novel. “The works by Jon Sobrino, by Leonardo Boff, by Gustavo Gutiérrez and so many others, but above all, the practical work already carried out by numerous Christians in spite of established Catholicism, encouraged me to write this interpretation of The Gospel According to Luke seeking, most rigorously, a translation of every lesson, of every miracle and of every passage to the contemporary Mexican context from a rational perspective and with a demythifing purpose” (11–12). Lucas adds that the objective of the book is to strengthen the Christian faith, even though the novel’s colloquial language might hurt some feelings (12). Similar to Luke, Lucas intends to write a book about Jesus’ love for humankind; Luke’s is the Gospel of love and salvation for everyone regardless of origin, race, or gender. In it we find a genuine interest in people’s well-being, along with a profound thankfulness that Jesus came to earth to “seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).[6] Likewise, El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán is written for the other, our neighbor, who is beside us and whom we are called to love, as Leñero has confessed in an interview: “Our neighbor is before us. The other, who for Sartre is the enemy, the opposite, the outsider, for the Christian is the very presence of Christ. Without love for our neighbor or the one who is different, we cannot reach a valuable existence … true love for God is loving our neighbor.”[7]

In the vein of liberation theology, the novel challenges, or is a counter-text to, the two traditional (and contradicting) images of Christ in Mexico and in Latin America, contradicting because they feed on the two polarized social classes in Latin America: the extremely rich and the extremely poor. On the one hand, we have the image of the crucified, bleeding Christ who has been conquered and suffers in passivity.[8] On the other hand, we find the “celestial monarch … the almighty Pantokrator, assimilated to the conquistador.”[9] This ruler image is identified with the hacienda owner, the patrón, the jefe (political boss), with all the “lords’ “to whom one doffs one’s sombrero”[10] and whose word is never to be contradicted but faithfully obeyed. Latin American theologian José Míguez-Bonino states that both icons are “faces of a christology of oppression: the Christ of ‘established impotence,’ or a resignation that refuses struggle because it has already been alienated and conquered, and the Christ of ‘established power,’ suggesting a subjugation that has no need of struggle, because it has already overcome.”[11] By preaching resignation and obedience to the poor and the oppressed, the Catholic Church in Mexico and in Latin America has become “elitist” and socially inactive, effectively maintaining the elite in power.[12]

Deliberately, I believe, Leñero’s down-to-earth portrayal of Jesucristo stands in sharp contrast not only with current official christologies in Latin America but also with Gustave Doré’s idealized, theatrical depictions of the life of Jesus pictured in his biblical plates. In the novel, Doré’s original engravings serve as introductions to the seven stages of Jesus’ life (Birth and Secret Life of John the Baptist and of Jesus, Jesus’ Preparation for His Ministry, Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee, His Trip to Jerusalem, Ministry of Jesus in Jerusalem, His Death, After the Resurrection). One purpose of the plates in the novel is to remind the reader of the prevalent romanticized perception of Jesus in Latin America. And they make even stronger the contrast between the traditional Christ of the Bible and Doré and Leñero’s demystified Mexican Christ. According to Millicent Rose, when the original plates were produced they were deemed objective and realistic, but that is no longer the case. Of all artists who have depicted Bible scenes, Doré created engravings that have become classical representations of Bible iconography.[13] Doré’s Bible was aimed at the well-to-do in the nineteenth century: it was “intended as a family possession, a gilt-edged treasure, sumptuous, magnificent.”[14] What both Doré and Leñero share are the rigor of their work and the intensity with which they capture Bible scenes, but with Leñero those scenes shift from the sumptuous and magnificent to the sordid and commonplace.

Another parallel between Luke and Lucas is the role of John the Baptist/Juan Bautista in preparing the populace for Jesus/Jesucristo. In Leñero’s account, Juan Bautista organizes for that effect the Frente Común (United Front) to pave the way for Jesucristo’s ministry by helping the people to empower themselves and solve some of the most urgent problems in their communities. The Frente Común never becomes a political party. In fact, it disappears shortly after Jesucristo becomes one of its members. Had he decided to become a politician or a priest, no doubt Jesucristo would have been successful. However, he chooses to become neither for he condemns both politics and priesthood as being founded on self-interest. Instead, Jesucristo comes to defend “lost causes” (85) both by preaching and by carrying out the worst paying jobs—like sorting trash at a huge Mexico City dump or loading and unloading ships in Veracruz. It is to the poor that he resorts when he needs a favor, be it a pick-up truck or a roof over his head, and it is from the poor that he chooses his disciples.

Both the Frente Común and, later, the small group of Jesucristo’s disciples remind us of the comunidades de base, or base communities, an essential component of liberation theology’s search for justice. The comunidades de base are groups of laymen who gather regularly to read the Bible and relate it to their daily political and economic reality under the guidance of a priest, who mainly listens. These religious groups thus have a political goal and purpose as they seek to improve social conditions for workers and peasants. Harvey Cox tells us that “[b]y starting at the lowest level and drawing people into genuine decision making, the base communities are actually rebuilding the nuclei of a polis in places where it had never developed or where it had been destroyed by political repression.”[15] Like the Frente Común and Jesucristo’s followers in the novel, the base communities in Latin America cannot grow into national organizations; to retain their effectiveness they must remain under local leadership.

As Lucas stated above, the novel intends to present the life of Jesus in a rational light, including his miracles. Jesucristo Gómez is born around 1940 in Mexico City, the illegitimate son of María David and José Gómez. One day a highway crew comes by to tell María and José that their property in the countryside will be expropriated and demolished to make way for the new highway. The only way to save their property or receive compensation is to go to Mexico City and talk to someone in power. At the end of a December day, María David gives birth to Jesucristo in the patio of a tenement in Mexico City’s red-light district. During and after María’s labor, prostitutes play an important role, adoring the newborn as well as lodging the family in a hotel room where the women do their trade. The proud parents could not sleep all night as “the street boys, the prostitutes, even the clients and don Paco, the hotel manager, would drop by the room to see the mother and child. They ended up throwing a Christmas party. Someone brought a record player. Don Paco offered the rum and cokes. They danced until early the next morning” (33). It is the poor and marginalized, the prostitutes and beggars, who recognize Jesucristo as a savior. Jesucristo could have been born in many humble or poor places in Mexico where he would receive just as much praise, but readers may wonder why the prostitutes adore him so much. Is Leñero writing a parody, ridiculing the situation? Or is the author trying to further demystify the circumstances, to show Jesucristo’s utter humility or merely to shock the reader?

Miracles in Luke and El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán are, at the same time, similar and different. On the one hand, they are alike in that they take place outside of the realm of organized religion and political parties, and generally respond to human needs, demand faith on the part of the recipients, and serve a didactic purpose. In addition, Jesus and Jesucristo perform the miracles by means of their own power (they are not mediators). On the other hand, the miracles differ in important ways. In the Bible, Christ’s miracles are acts that show his power over nature, life, and death. In Leñero’s novel, Jesucristo’s miracles are neither physical nor concrete. Jesucristo is less powerful, no longer a god, just a very kind and charismatic man who affects people’s behavior for the better. Jesus’ miracles are demystified in the novel as they are interpreted as acts based on reason, seen as the result of genuine interest in the well-being of one’s neighbor. Even though Jesucristo’s miracles are much humbler, not supernatural, they still appear miraculous; they bring about events that otherwise would not happen and they are acts that evoke great surprise and admiration. Maybe Leñero is pointing out that miracles happen all the time and we just take them for granted. According to liberation theology, ordinary people can create heaven on earth, and since Jesucristo’s miracles are of a kind that anyone can perform, anyone can contribute to building God’s kingdom.

Another important difference between the Bible, Doré’s pictures, and the novel concerns both the quantity and quality of information on the miracles they depict. The Bible and Doré share a certain dignity, that is, both avoid all sordid details. We do not know whether the dead body of Lazarus stank or to what extent the lepers were disfigured. Leñero’s text, however, erases that dignity by underlining the humbleness and ugliness of Jesucristo’s surroundings.

Many of Jesucristo’s miracles in the novel are didactic in that they teach compassion and tolerance toward those who are different or lack dignity. In the case of Jesucristo’s Mexican culture, the “different” include the needy, homosexuals, abused women, prostitutes, people with bad reputations who want to start new lives, and oppressed peasants and workers. A good example of compassion to the needy and of sharing is Leñero’s version of “Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand,” a scene in which Jesucristo urges in a no-nonsense fashion those who have brought food to share with those who did not (131). This simple message calls for an ongoing critical reassessment of social wealth and its fair distribution.

Another miracle, Leñero’s version of “The Healing of a Boy With an Evil Spirit,” deals with a young male homosexual who is ostracized by his father and the townspeople. In a country of machos, to end up with a gay son is still considered a “disgrace” (137). Thus the father resorts to beatings and visits with his son to brothels to “bring out” the boy’s masculinity. Upon listening to both of them separately, the disciples and Jesucristo come up with different solutions. Whereas the disciples preach the sinfulness of homosexuality to the boy, Jesucristo, who soon realizes that no one can change the boy’s sexual orientation, points out the facts to the father. For the problem is not the boy’s homosexuality, but the fact that everyone, including his own father, considers him inferior and rejects him. According to Jesucristo, then, the best solution is to allow the boy to be free. The father ought to lend his son the moral and financial support to pursue his endeavors, which are to join the man he loves in doing what he enjoys most, singing and playing the guitar, and to start a music group in the city of Guanajuato. Once again, Jesucristo’s unusual but effective solutions puzzle his disciples. While, for the disciples, injustice is a fixed idea, it is a fluid concept for Jesucristo, who realizes that injustice can have different meanings. In order to detect and fight injustice, Jesucristo makes use of his keen awareness of the human condition in Mexico.[16]

In the Bible, Jesus’ enemies, especially the Pharisees, perceive him as a blasphemous agitator and revolutionary who must be eliminated. This scenario is mirrored in El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán. Here the middle and upper classes reject Jesucristo, eyeing him not as a Messiah, but as a political threat, a dangerous individual of humble origins who directly attacks the Establishment. Therefore, the political oligarchy and the Catholic Church have little contact with Jesucristo, whose revolutionary role in the novel is clear even before his birth. María David, in Leñero’s version of “Mary’s Song,” indicates to her aunt Isabel that she wants to name her son Jesucristo because “Jesus Christ came to defend the poor and to fight against injustice. He damned the rich. Fought against exploiters. He gave up his life in order to change this world” (24). María connects the Palestine of two thousand years ago with contemporary Mexico: the lot of the poor has not changed much during that time.[17]

Occasionally, Jesucristo is invited to the houses and factories of those in power, and at other times he meets them when he intervenes on behalf of the poor. He also talks to the clergy at seminars and parishes. Similar to Jesus, Jesucristo is straightforward in his criticism. He disapproves of the Establishment for their lack of interest in social justice; he accuses the oligarchy and the Church of being hierarchical and authoritarian, and of abusing their power to further their economic interests; he accuses them of neglecting the welfare of the poor and disempowered and of deepening with each passing generation the chasm between the upper and the lower classes. These accusations and his preaching to the poor later get him jailed, tortured, and murdered. Jesucristo’s accusations of the Establishment render the novel a counter-text to the current official christologies and himself a revolutionary figure.[18]

In both the Gospel of Luke and Leñero’s gospel of Lucas, John the Baptist/Juan Bautista and Jesus/Jesucristo challenge the political status quo. Since Juan Bautista’s and Jesucristo’s preaching takes place mainly in the Mexican countryside, their political enemies are the caciques: the all-powerful landowners and political bosses, who are friends with the governor, know the politicians in Mexico City, and choose at will county and city officials. In the novel, the caciques’ interests are directly threatened, first by the activities of Juan Bautista and later by those of Jesucristo. Therefore, the caciques cannot afford to let those two go around freely, waking people up and calling them to action; the caciques ask each of them to stop, but to no avail. One interview with Juan Bautista ends in shouts and name calling of the cacique: exploiter of peasants, murderer, rapist, and pimp (53). On the occasion of an interview between a cacique and Jesucristo in a restaurant, the presence of a prostitute (Leñero’s version of “Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman”) serves to highlight the suffering of the underdog and to blame the cacique for it. One day Don Ventura Felguérez, a landowner and grain merchant, invites Jesucristo to a restaurant for dinner. During the meal, a prostitute, “la morena” (dark-skinned woman), buys the Teacher a bottle of cognac and joins them. While Don Ventura’s sole purpose is to persuade him to give up his activities, “la morena” confesses her sins, tells of her deep longing for true love, and goes on to tell Jesucristo about the plight of women in Mexico, the rapes, the beatings, and the overwork (108). When she leaves, Don Ventura tells Jesucristo that she only came to spoil their dinner and that she is “a real whore” (108). Jesucristo clarifies that she has been more generous with him than Don Ventura has been. Once again, Jesucristo is acknowledged by the poor and rejected by the rich.

Just like Jesus defied the Pharisees, Jesucristo’s search for justice and the kingdom of God leads him to critize the institution of the Church. Parallel to the story of “The Boy Jesus at the Temple,” on a pilgrimage to the Basílica de Guadalupe (Mexico’s main Catholic shrine) with his parents, Jesucristo disappears for a few hours. They find him arguing with a group of seminarians and young Catholic activists. He brings to their attention key issues regarding the Church and social justice, such as the wealth of the Church and the myth of the Virgin of Guadalupe (44–45). When Jesucristo’s parents scold him for staying behind, he reminds them of his calling: “You have your stuff and this is mine, gimme a break” (45).

As the novel progresses, Jesucristo’s accusations against the Church, especially against the priests, become stronger. In the novel, the priests share some similarities with the Pharisees in the Bible: a virtuous appearance hides abuses of authority, pride, and love of money; they have turned the temple into a “commercial racket” and the Church into an “important financial group.”[19] Just like, in the Bible, Jesus condemns the Pharisees’ obsessive concern with countless rules of conduct, in the novel, Jesucristo discredits the ideological apparatus sustaining the Church. The “Church’s narrow-mindedness,” as Leñero calls it in an interview,[20] has permanently distanced it from those who need it most, the poor.

In Leñero’s version of the story “Jesus and Beelzebub,” Jesucristo makes his strongest statement against the organized Church by comparing it to Beelzebub and claiming that it has lost the moral authority to invoke Jesus Christ’s name. When a seminarian decides to leave his studies in order to follow Jesucristo, the bishop becomes very upset and asks his coadjutor to talk to Jesucristo, hoping to obstruct Jesucristo’s infiltration of the Church. The coadjutor argues that, since Jesucristo’s preaching has not resulted in an increase of candidates for priesthood, he is not inspired by God. Jesucristo clarifies that they may be working for a different God: “If I speak of God and his justice, and because the people follow God and work for justice they get away from the God you preach, at least that’s how I understand it, that you and your society and your interests have turned God into an idea at the service of unjust situations. You’ve dirtied his image. You’ve turned the truth upside down” (159). This angers the coadjutor in the extreme and effectively puts an end to the conversation. On another occasion, parallel to “Six Woes [to the Pharisees],” when Jesucristo is invited to a reception by the instructors at the seminary, he takes advantage of the opportunity to tell them that their intellectualism has distorted what is a very clear message in the Gospel (166–67). As critic Danny Anderson indicates, the novel acts as a counter-text to modern theology: “In this sense the ‘aparato ideológico aplastante’ [overwhelming ideological apparatus] of modern theology is its rendering ineffective the potentially positive, formative role of religion in culture. As portrayed in El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán, modern theology errs not in doing something wrong, but in not doing something socially useful.”[21]

A plate by Doré in the novel seems to voice Leñero’s opinion on the Church’s intellectualism. Preceding the “Prólogo,” Leñero has inserted Doré’s engraving of “St. Paul at Ephesus,” which depicts a public book burning on the street with the apostle Paul presiding. The caption, which is absent in the engraving’s reproduction in the novel, reads: “A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly.…” (Acts 19:19). In the Latin American context, rife with social conflict, the engraving points to the fact that theologians have done something “unacceptable”: they have manipulated the name of Jesus to control social conditions. In this interpretation, the identity of the man witnessing the burning is left unclear. On the one hand, he may well represent someone associated with the liberation theology movement, potentially the author Leñero himself, who oversees the destruction of intellectualism and fideism in much of twentieth-century European theology. On the other hand, the figure may represent Paul and through him the institution of the Church, since Paul himself was concerned with Church leaders receiving due recognition and authority to maintain order within the Church as an integral part of the redemptive work of Christ (Ephesians 2:20; 3:5; 4:11). The books being burned would thus be the ones criticizing the Church. In either case, the plate points to a serious ideological battle and the question of who has the moral power to invoke Jesus Christ’s name.

Reminiscent of “Jesus at the Temple,” Jesucristo verbally and even physically defies the priests’ message and practices. A few weeks before his death, Jesucristo attends mass in both rich and poor neighborhoods in Mexico City. One morning he goes beyond merely interrupting the homily (as has been his practice): he shouts and tries to destroy the altar. In the novel, the merchants, whom Jesucristo accuses of converting the temples into tombs of God and of turning the church into a fashion parade and a bank (246), are the clergy themselves. And, like Jesus, Jesucristo foretells his own death: “I came to incite nations and how I’d love to see everyone excited. But I’m afraid, really, because for this you pay with your life. Because of me nations, friends and families will fight among themselves” (171–72).

The passion of Jesus is portrayed in the novel with Jesucristo’s capture and his savage torture to death by the feared Mexican secret police. His accusers are an influential cacique and the clergy. Since the Mexico City Procurador and the officials of the neighboring state of Mexico do not want to be involved with Jesucristo’s case, they, like Pontius Pilate, wash their hands, leaving Jesucristo to the mercy of the secret police, who charge him with being closely associated with enemies of the state. When asked by the torturer why he has been an activist, Jesucristo replies that the Gospel inspired him to open people’s eyes to the reality around them (281). Hours later, on a police van that is taking him to the Campo Militar to be murdered, Jesucristo suffers a painful death (“The Crucifixion”) from internal wounds. Immediately after his death there is an earthquake, an event quite likely in Mexico City, and clearly in analogy to Matthew 27:51, in which the earthquake is symbolic of the sorrow of God upon the death of his son. This is Leñero’s final touch to Jesucristo’s earthly life, and the only “supernatu­ral” event in an otherwise rational novel. Since the government hurriedly disposes of his cadaver in a common grave, the disciples’ search for his body is in vain.

Leñero’s demythification of Jesus continues with the portrayal of Jesucristo’s resurrection, apparition, and ascension, where Leñero clearly de-emphasizes Jesus’ glorious state. Jesucristo appears to the sad and discouraged disciples in the person of a nameless priest, whose resolve and gentle way of speaking remind them of the Teacher. His loving qualities urge Pedro Simón to ask the priest if he would like to be their new leader. When the priest tells them that he cannot, since he is needed at his parish, the disciples immediately show their dislike of clergy and force him to leave. At the door, Pedro Simón tells the priest that his visit to the disciples has achieved its goal: to remind them that Jesucristo is not dead (308). Rather, the love of Jesus is ever becoming, living in whoever carries out his teachings, be it a bricklayer, a factory worker, or a priest.

Though they receive much criticism throughout the novel, the clergy are vindicated by the fact that Leñero chose a priest to represent Jesucristo resurrected. The fact that Simón Pedro asks him to lead them without knowing his occupation suggests that the task of leading the people is open to anyone who wants to take it. However, the priest is the ideal candidate because of his knowledge of Jesus’ teachings and their relevance to the Mexican reality. In Leñero’s version of “The Ascension,” the priest decides to go back to his parish, his base community, where the kingdom of God is already at work. By this, Leñero suggests that the institution of the Church, which Leñero perceives as elitist, would do better on its commitment to the poor if it considered the revolutionary outlook of the liberating Jesucristo, his salvific, flexible message of love and dedication to the many in need, and if it reassessed its relationship with the few who possess power and wealth.


[1] Particularly in the following novels: La voz adolorida (The painful voice; Xalapa, Mexico: Universidad Veracruzana, 1961); Los albañiles (The bricklayers; Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1964); Afuerza de palabras (By force of words; Buenos Aires: Centro Editor de América latina, 1967); and Redil de ovejas (Sheepfold; Mexico: Joaquín Mortiz, 1972).
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[2] Vicente Leñero, El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán (Barcelona: Seix Barral, 1979). All references are to this edition and are cited parenthetically in the text. All translations are my own.
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[3] John M. Lipski, “Vicente Leñero: Narrative Evolution as Religious Search,” Hispanic Journal 3.2 (1982): 52.
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[4] Richard L. Rohrbaugh, Into All the World: A Basic Overview of the New Testament (Livermore, CA: Griggs Educational Service, 1976) 108.
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[5] In Mexico there are about 9,000 Catholics per priest. Only 10 per cent of Mexican Catholics attend mass regularly. Also, in Mexico, as a result of the strict separation of Church and State, children do not attend Catholic schools and/or receive very little religious education. Víctor Gabriel Muro, “Catholic Church: Mexico,” Encyclopedia of Mexico: History, Society and Culture, ed. Michael S. Werner (Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1997) 222.
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[6] All biblical references are to The Holy Bible. New International Version (East Brunswick, NJ: International Bible Society, 1984).
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[7] Adela Salinas, “Vicente Leñero: La opción de Jesucristo,” Dios y los escritores mexicanos (Mexico: Editorial Patria, 1997) 77.
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[8] The Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno describes such a Christ found in a Spanish town, an icon that also became common in Latin America: “This immortal Christ like death does not resurrect; what for? he awaits death itself. From his half-open mouth, as black as the undecipherable mystery, flows into nothing, to which it never arrives.… This Christ-cadaver, whom as such does not think, is free from the pain of thinking, from the excruciating sorrow that on the olive field the other one—with his soul bursting with sadness—made him ask the father to spare him from chalice of pain.… And how must his thoughts ache, if he is only dead flesh … set black blood? … This Spanish Christ, who has not lived, as black as the humus of the earth, lays as the plains, horizontal, flat, without soul and without hope, eyes closed facing a sky of scant rain and heat that burns bread.” In Unamuno, “El Cristo yacente de Santa Clara de Palencia,” Andanzas y visiones españolas (Madrid: Renacimiento, 1929) 298. My translation.
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[9] José Míguez-Bonino, “Who is Jesus Christ in Latin America Today?” Faces of Jesus: Latin American Christologies, ed. José Míguez-Bonino (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1983) 2.
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[10] Saúl Trinidad, “Christology, Conquista, Colonization,” Míguez-Bonino 52.
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[11] Trinidad 60.
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[12] Raúl Vidales, “How Should We Speak of Christ Today?” Bonino 144.
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[13] Millicent Rose, “Introduction to the Dover Edition,” Gustave Doré, The Doré Bible Illustrations. 241 Illustrations by Gustave Doré (New York: Dover, 1974) ix.
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[14] Rose vi.
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[15] Harvey Cox, Religion in the Secular City: Toward a Postmodern Theology (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984) 129. The comunidades de base have been quite successful in Central America, Brazil, and Chile, but not, however, in Mexico.
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[16] Danny J. Anderson, “Effective Translation, Effective Intervention: Demystification as Textual Process in El Evangelio de Lucas Gavilán,” Vicente Leñero: The Novelist as Critic, ed. D. J. A. (New York: Peter Lang, 1989) 147.
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[17] José Mateos tells us that “[t]he Palestinian economic structure consisted almost entirely of two social classes, the poor, the majority of whom were peasants, and the landowners or well-to-do class. There was no middle class worth mentioning and even the artisans belonged to the lower class. Given the distance between the two and the lack of a middle class, there was no hope of human promotion for the poor, and they had no means of bettering their situation, which depended wholly on the will of the men in power.” In “The Message of Jesus: An Introduction to the Gospel,” Sojourners 6.8 (1977): 11.
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[18] Anderson 140.
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[19] Mateos 9.
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[20] Kirsten F. Nigro, “Entrevista a Vicente Leñero,” Latin American Theatre Review 18.2 (1985): 81.
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[21] Anderson 137.
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