Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed

William Herzog, Westminster, 1994, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Herzog focuses on the parables from the social/cultural analysis of Paulo Freire, Brazilian educator, whose work with the poor brought new attention to what could help people accept a perspective that would move beyond the immediate poverty and loss of hope.

        Herzog traces carefully the shifting interpretation systems of Jesus ‘the Parabaler’ and presents an interpretational approach that compares it with Freire’s methodology. Jesus and Freire have much in common. They both worked with the poor and oppressed. Both lived in advanced agrarian societies, an imperial or colonial situation. In both Palestine and Brazil religion plays a leading role (religion can both liberate and oppress).

        Jesus used parables shaped by the Torah, spelling out the justice of G-d’s reign. He was shaped by his social location as the son of a village artisan who became an itinerant rabbi, wandering through the client kingdom of Herod Antipas and the Roman administered province of Judea (p 17). The parables give details of everyday life, but they by themselves remain isolated and contentless.

        To understand the parables means one must know what larger work was being accomplished. So the interpreter needs to articulate what social constraint of reality is being presented in the given parable. What do they reveal about the large social, political, cultural and economic systems within which Jesus spoke and the crowd heard? Herzog does this kind of analysis with ten parables. ‘Jesus ministry was concerned with political and economic issues’ (p 264).

        A wonderfully illuminating treatment of Jesus the Parabaler.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.