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The Time My Salvadoreña Ma Humbled Me in Greek

Updated: Mar 19, 2023

by Josue Portillo, Ozark Christian College

"Ma, check out what I learned in school!"

Having been on a break from classes and visiting my family for Christmas, I was eager to show my parents some of the things I had been learning. These last few years at Bible college had afforded me the opportunity to study Greek and Hebrew. I was looking forward to showcasing my limited comprehension of Greek and impressing them. My parents, being migrants from El Salvador, came to the United States in their late teenage years and into their early twenties, beginning to work right away. Since they never had the opportunity to pursue further education, I’m always excited to share what I am learning with them. This was one of those moments, but how my mom responded to my comment came as a surprise.

I showed her this picture of my Greek transcription of the three synoptic accounts of the Rich Young Ruler.

I was expecting her to be surprised by my work, but instead, she looked at me and said that she too knew Greek. Since being in the United States, my mom has worked as a factory worker and as a housekeeper; needless to say I was a little skeptical of her assertion. Nevertheless, she proceeded to greet me in modern Greek and said "Tι κανείς" which means "How are you?" in modern Greek. I’m sure you’re just as surprised as I was, so I followed up my shock by asking her where she had learned Greek. Her response was humbling. She responded, "En el pasado, limpié la casa de una familia griega y me enseñaron algunas de sus frases" or "In the past, I cleaned the house of a Greek family and they taught me some of their phrases."

Ironically, her comment had offered a new insight into the very text that I had transcribed. While it may not have come out of a commentary, it came from a person who expresses the very characteristics described in the text. The story of the Rich Young Ruler is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Each account of the story is preceded by Jesus welcoming and embracing the little children. For example, in Mark 10:15-16 Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them." Mark 10:17-31 describes the interaction between a Rich Young Ruler and Jesus. The Rich Young Ruler is a Torah-observant man, so faithful that he desires to attain eternal life but ultimately rejects Jesus. [1] His title as "Ruler," is only found in Luke’s account but it is indicative of the reality of his wealth and status. His wealth would have more than likely stemmed from being a landowner. [2] The division concerning wealth (i.e small landowners and rich landowners) carried socio-economic and ethnic implications, mainly between Jews and non-Jews. In this case, since the Rich Young Ruler is Jewish, it may allude to his assimilation into the Roman Empire and discrimination of fellow Jews. [3] Nevertheless, the crux of the story is that the Rich Young Ruler denies Jesus’ invitation to give all his wealth to the poor and follow Him. Instead, he keeps his wealth and refuses eternal life.

But how does this relate to the insight from my mom? That answer can be found in the part of the text that is often overlooked. The following verses 17-27 is where we see the intersection between Christianity and migration. Mark 10:28-31 reads,

"Then Peter spoke up, 'We have left everything to follow you!' 'Truly I tell you,' Jesus replied, 'no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.'"

In the midst of this teaching, the disciples were amazed and bewildered by the question of who actually had the potential of entering into the kingdom of God. The apostle Peter raises his hand and exclaims how he has left everything to follow Jesus. Jesus’ response expresses the type of people that are fit for the kingdom of God (see Mark 10:15-16). He says that anyone who has "left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age... and in the age to come eternal life." Those who are fit for the kingdom of God are those who take on the life and posture of a migrant. Followers of the ὁδὸς/Camino/Way ought to bear the same commitment to Christ as many of our families have had towards seeking a new life and direction in a new land (John 14:6, Acts 24:14).

In his book Caminemos Con Jesus: Toward a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment, Roberto S. Goizueta describes how U.S. Hispanic/Latino Christians find solace in the identity of Christ as El Peregrino "The pilgrim/migrant." [4] Christ is, after all, the one who, being rich, became poor for our sake. [5] Goizueta goes on to explain how "Jesus reveals to us not only who God is (theology) but also who we are (anthropology) - inherently sacramental, relational creatures." [6] In our devotion to Christ we are to have the posture of Jesus who is El Peregrino, “The pilgrim/migrant” that “though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). He is the “Stranger” or Migrant from heaven who descended from and ascended to God (Jn. 13:3). [7] In Him, we are made rich and find the model by which we are to live.

Archbishop Óscar Romero of El Salvador, similar to the context of the Rich Young Ruler, dealt with his own issues concerning landowners and agrarian reform and spoke out against the rich on behalf of the poor. [8] Concerning this text, Romero says, “this is the commitment of being a Christian: to follow Christ in his incarnation. If Christ, the God of majesty, became a lowly human and lived with the poor and even died on a cross like a slave, our Christian faith should also be lived in the same way. The Christian who does not want to live this commitment of solidarity with the poor is not worthy to be called Christian.” [9]

The only reason that I know Greek and have had the opportunity to study the Bible is because my parents left everything to offer my family a new life. My mom’s hustle in cleaning up after Greeks is what has enabled my siblings and I to learn. They left casas, hermanos, hermanas, madre, padre, hijos y terrenos so that we might have a new future. This is the immigrant experience. As Christians, we are to have this level of commitment to Christ. After all, Jesus does make the caveat, saying anyone who does this "por mi causa y el evangelio," "for me and the gospel." It is noble and brave to leave everything behind for the sake of a new life; likewise, it is righteous to leave everything behind por Christo y el evangelio, "for Christ and the Gospel." Let us receive the kingdom of God like children and migrants.

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Josue Portillo is a second-generation immigrant from El Salvador. He is a senior at Ozark Christian College studying Theology, Christian Ministry, and Biblical Languages. Josue will soon be ministering at Ben Davis Christian Church in Indianapolis, IN as the teaching and outreach pastor. He and his wife are passionate about sharing the love of Jesus and caring for immigrants/refugees in their community.


[1] N.T. Wright and Michael Bird, The New Testament in Its World. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic, 2019), 568.

[2] Ze’ev Safrai, The Economy of Roman Palestine, 1st ed. Taylor and Francis, 2003. “The Organizational Framework of Farming.”

[3] Safrai, The Economy of Roman Palestine, “The Organizational Framework of Farming.” In relation to ethnic conflict, landowning and assimilation Safrai adds, “In Judaea the conflict between the small farmer and the rich landowner was not just social and economic, but also ethnic; it was part of the general struggle between Jews and non-Jews. Of course, not all Jews were small farmers or tenant farmers and there were certainly rich landowners who were Jewish.” Along with, “Imperial lands were occasionally given as gifts to the rich or to other supporters of the government. Roman veterans often enjoyed the benefits of such gifts.”

[4] Roberto S. Goizueta, Caminemos Con Jesús: Toward a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995), 32.

[5] Óscar A. Romero and James R. Brockman, The Violence of Love, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010), 47.

[6] Goizueta, Caminemos Con Jesús. 67.

[7] Wayne A. Meeks, Allen R. Hilton, and H. Gregory Snyder, In Search of the Early Christians: Selected Essays, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), 71.

[8] Óscar A. Romero, Martín-Baró Ignacio, Jon Sobrino, and Michael J. Walsh, Voice of the Voiceless: The Four Pastoral Letters and Other Statements, (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2020), 43. Regarding agararian reform Romero said, “Agrarian reform should not be undertaken simply so as to find a way of salvaging the capitalist economic system, and allowing it to go on developing in such as way that wealth is accumulated and concentrated in the hands of a few, whether they be of the industrial, commercial, or banking sectors of society. Nor should it be done so as to silence the campesinos, to prevent them from organizing themselves and so increasing their political, economic and social involvement. Agrarian reform ought not to make the campesinos dependent upon the state. It ought to leave them free in their relationship with the state [sermon, De. 16, 1979].”

[9] Romero and Brockman, The Violence of Love, 205.

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