I continue into the series of introductory excerpts from book Right Parables Wrong Perspectives. These are used with the permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. You can get your discounted copy here or on Amazon. Today’s excerpt from pp. xi-xii asks the important question that shows interpretation not only as a science but also as an art.
In Right Kingdom, I asked the question, “What if the parable gets turned upside down?” This is a legitimate question due to the subversive nature of Jesus’ parables. Jesus could’ve told his parables in many different ways, but he chose to tell them in one way. That one way triumphs over the many other ways.
In my colleague Sze-kar Wan’s back cover endorsement for Right Kingdom, he reminded me that Jesus’ parables can be told from “all sides and in all manners.” We must recognize that the backward way is not the only way to read a parable. In this study, I shall be more flexible. I ask a slightly different and wider question, “What if parables have imaginary varieties?” What if Jesus endorsed certain mentalities while attacking other mentalities? Whatever Jesus endorsed or attacked would show parts of his teaching that did or didn’t fit his society’s ideas.
Parables are cultural pieces, or as Amy-Jill Levine suggests, “short stories by Jesus.” These are fictional narratives created by Jesus out of the cultural milieu of his day. In other words, Jesus could have told his parables in an alternative way or two, but he chose to tell them the way he did. If we see Jesus’ parables as part of a larger cultural conversation, we should also attempt to imagine the other possible ways a parable could have be told, to appreciate its full meaning. Through our imaginative efforts, we can begin to get a glimpse of how value systems that favored or opposed Jesus’ value system might implicate our own modern way of looking at life. If we read Luke within the context of each event in Jesus’ life, we will find a consistent social message that flows from Luke’s understanding of the kingdom and the “gospel.”
I hope this book ultimately serves readers from all walks of life, as a part of a spiritual and ethical reflection, which will help shape the way we think and live. All scriptural translations are taken from the New English Translation, just as in Right Kingdom. I’m grateful to the NET for granting me permission to use their translation.