After spending a couple of years reading quite a bit of theology, but not that much of the Bible itself, I was in the mood this year to get back to the core of things. So, in spring 2015, my book group at Weatherly Heights Baptist Church explored some of the parables of Jesus using Amy-Jill Levine’s book Short Stories by Jesus.
I enjoyed reading and discussing the parables immensely (of course, it helps that I have a fabulous group of folks to do it with!), and I liked the interpretations that Levine had to offer although getting to her main points took some slogging through lots of background and citation of obscure sources. If you are academically inclined or especially interested in learning about 1st-century Judaism, I recommend her book. I also enjoyed reading up on the parables in Robert Farrar Capon’s three-volume set Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus.
However, if you aren’t up for heavy reading but would like a refresher course on (or an introduction to) some of the parables, here is a list of additional sources that I assembled as we worked our way through the parables in Levine’s book, plus a couple more.
There are some standard interpretations included here, and some creative ones. If you are in the mood to be puzzled and provoked by Jesus’s stories, dive right in!
Parable Readings from around the Web:
Charles Spurgeon’s 1884 sermon on the parable of the Lost Sheep (long, but I found it interesting that his take aligns in some ways more with Levine’s than with Luke’s framing of the story as about repentance. The emphasis is more on Jesus searching for lost souls than on repentance).
James Buckley, “Seeking, Saving, Finding”: A blog post on LGBTQ inclusion in the church, using the parable of the Lost Coin.
The Good Samaritan: A blog post with two contrasting readings of the parable–one Christocentric (The Good Samaritan = Jesus himself) and the other more along the lines of Levine’s interpretation.
“Jesus Doesn’t Want You to Be a Good Samaritan” by David Henson. This is a GREAT reflection on a possible deeper meaning of this parable – the logical next step from Levine’s analysis, I think. More from Henson below.
Nadia Bolz-Weber, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like . . .” (Parable of the Yeast, Mustard Seed, etc.)
Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Sermon on Faith, Doubt, and Mustard Seed Necklaces.”
Alyce M. McKenzie, “Strange Scripture: Reflections on the Five Parables in Matthew 13” (Contains the Parables of the Yeast, Mustard Seed, and Pearl of Great Price)
Parable readings by Episcopal priest David R. Henson (Fair warning: David does creative readings of the sort AJ Levine dislikes. I find them intriguing, but they should, of course, be taken with a grain of salt!):
The Good Samaritan (This is a link to the first of three retellings of the parable; you can get to the other two by clicking the links at the top of the blog posts.)
The Parable of the Sower (I really like this one!)
“The God who Throws Seeds Everywhere” – Morgan Guyton on the Parable of the Sower
Moonshine Jesus Show Lectionary Cast on the Parable of the Sower (20 minutes of audio)
Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20.1-16)
Carl Gregg (Unitarian Universalist) – Jesus’ Parable of the Job Creator, the Day Laborers, and #OccupyWallSt Gregg hits upon a few of the same points as Levine.
Jack Mahoney, SJ (Jesuit) – “The Parable of the Living Wage?” – This one is a little dense, but it has some good points. It touches on some other parables that we have read as well.
Sr. Rose Pacatte (Catholic) – “What the Parable of the Vineyard Workers Really Says” – Another social justice-oriented interpretation.
Allen Ross (prof. at Samford’s divinity school), “The Workers in the Vineyard” – A fairly standard, more spiritualized interpretation about grace.