“Short Stories by Jesus” is the clever title for a wonderful book about the parables written by Amy Jill Levine, a professor of New Testament and Jewish studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville. Dr. Levine describes herself as a “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominantly Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt.” With a sharp mind and keen sense of humor, she studies and teaches the New Testament with, I think, a sense of love…..and “the commitment to eliminating anti-Jewish, sexist, and homophobic theologies.”
“AJ” (as she likes to be called) was a guest here at St. Anthony’s a few years ago, when she offered a morning of reflection just before Holy Week. Although somewhat short in stature, AJ left a large and thought-provoking impression about some of the misconceptions we might have grown up with regarding many of the parables told in the Gospels. Coloring in the details about Jewish life in First Century Palestine helps to give the familiar stories a new meaning, a new slant, with wider implications.
This week’s Gospel reading is chock full of parables. There is enough growing and sowing and kneading and baking to stock our imaginations full! Jesus was that consummate storyteller who people could listen to for hours. This suggests he connected with people in an authentic and meaningful way, challenging them to think about their lives and God with a new creativity through the parables he told.
Down through various times and cultures, the parables continue to encourage these same things. They point out the Kingdom of God—the presence of God—in everything around us, even in those places and activities we might have thought too mundane to look. So look for evidence of that Kingdom while driving on I-95 Northbound on a Friday afternoon in the summer (although ”parking” is probably more accurate!). Maybe the Kingdom is somewhere in your Spam box…..or in the line at Dairy Queen……or in the produce aisle at Super Stop and Shop….or in a day at the beach with the kids…..
The nature of the parables seem to suggest that it is. All that’s required to find it is a creative response to the world around us, an open eye or ear expecting to see and hear it…