Jesus’ parables form a major, distinctive portion of his teaching and express his prophetic role as Messiah. His parables give us our most direct contact with his voice and theological worldview, and the response of his contemporaries to these stories help us understand the mixed evaluation he received. They define his relationship with Yahweh, his role in forming the new people of the Kingdom, the decision that every person has to make regarding his claims, and how he intends people to live as part of his Kingdom. In other words Jesus’ theology emerges especially in his parables.
It is also the case that the interpretation of Jesus’ parables remains a singular challenge for the contemporary church. If the parables were intended to challenge the first century Jewish audience in Galilee, then how are they relevant today? Given their setting within the Gospel narratives of Mark, Matthew and Luke, how should we discern the early church’s appropriation of these stories? Are they moral tales, spiritual illustrations, prophetic analogs, or theological allegories – or all or none of the above? How do Jesus’ parables relate to the parables we find in later, rabbinic writings? Is Jesus following an already established teaching tradition in Judaism, or is he innovative, creating a new teaching medium that was formative for later rabbinic Judaism? To what degree are the parables intended to be commentary on Israel’s spiritual condition?
In the course we will consider the parables as they occur in the triple tradition, in two of the Gospels, and those that are unique to a single Gospel. We will also inquire as to why John’s Gospel lacks parables, at least in the form we find them in the other three Gospels.
The intent in all of this is to enable Christian leaders to interpret Gospel parables appropriately, understand their role in Jesus’ mission, appropriate the message of Jesus’ parables for themselves, and to articulate it effectively to others.