Seed Falling on Good Ground: Rooting our Lives in the Parables of Jesus

Gordon King, Cascade, 2016

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        We sometimes imagine the New Testament milieu consisting of contented farmers and jolly fishing families who gave up a few hours of words to hear the message of a religious teacher speaking about the deeper meanings of life.  It is more accurate to say that ‘desperation, deprivation and resentment characterized the lives of most people in Galilee and Judea’ (p 24).

        Hunger was prevalent in first century Palestine. King points out that the parables are grounded in socio-economic, spiritual and political realities that challenged the status quo and confronted the powers, principalities and system.  ‘It was dangerous for Jesus to talk about the kingdom of G-d in a land ruled by an emperor who commanded legions of troops.  It would have been a safer option to speak about the family of G-d or the age of the Spirit’ (p 6).

        Most of the people who heard his stories lived on the margins, contending with hunger, poverty and a growing sense of resistance to the Kingdom of Rome and its religious puppets.

        Jesus used parables, King reminds us, to cast the vision of an alternative kingdom which offered personal and social transformation.  ‘The parables critiqued the social conditions of first-century Galilee and Judea.  G-d was not content with the economic inequities that left Lazarus dying outside the gate of a rich man.  Nor was G-d content that rich men enjoyed dinner parties while the poor and physically challenged suffered from hunger. Nor did he look favourably on the occasion in which men abandoned the righteous cause of a marginalized woman.

        Jesus the story teller had a restless discontent with the structures and dominant discourse of his time.’ (p 168, 169).  That was then. ‘Today the power of the empire is exercised through finances, technology, resource extraction and regulation of information’ (p 172).

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