The Power of Parable: How Fiction BY Jesus became Fiction ABOUT Jesus

John Dominic Crossan. HarperCollins, 2012, reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Crossan examines Jesus’ parables and identifies what he calls the ‘challenge parable’ as Jesus’ chosen teaching tool for urging his followers to probe, question and debate the absolutes of religious faith and the presuppositions of social, political and economic traditions. He proposes a three-fold typology for the parable genre: riddle parables (allegory) (eg Sower and the Seed, Mark 4); example (seeing the lost things (Luke 15) and challenge (his major category)(p 244). He then presents the four gospels as mega parables, interpretation by the gospel writers challenging and enabling us to co-create with G-d a world of justice, love and peace.

        Crossan invites a new perspective involving the probable setting of an oral tradition. ‘Would there have been an absolute and respectful silence, for say an hour plus as Jesus performed his story? Or would there have been interruptions and pushbacks, agreements and agreements, not only between speaker and hearers, but among the hearers themselves?’ (p 95), an audience participation involved a class reversal of traditional expectations (eg the Good Samaritan). Challenge parables are participatory—because provocative—pedagogy. The gospels are challenge parables not by but about Jesus.

        Crossan presents a non-violent Jesus who rejects rhetorical violence. But what of the violent metaphors Jesus uses (ie ’hypocrites’, especially in Matthew 23)? Here Crossan sees the gospel writers as parable writers; ‘does Jesus change his mind or does Matthew change his Jesus?” (p 187). ‘The power of Jesus’ parables challenged and enabled his followers to co-create with G-d a world of justice and love, peace and nonviolence’ ( p 252).

        A wonderful exposition of parables by and about Jesus.

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