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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Monday, July 20, 2009
    Earthy stories with heavy meanings
    The parables were not earthly stories with heavenly meanings but earthy stories with heavy meanings, weighted down by an awareness of the workings of exploitation in the world of their hearers. The focus of the parables was not on a vision of the glory of the reign of God, but on the gory details of how oppression served the interests of a ruling class. Instead of reiterating the promise of God’s intervention in human affairs, they explored how human beings could respond to break the spiral of violence and cycle of poverty created by exploitation and oppression. The parable was a form of social analysis every bit as much as it was a form of theological reflection.
    I was told that William R. Herzog's, Parables as Subversive Speech: Jesus as Pedagogue of the Oppressed was one of those life-changing books. Radically perception-altering. And so it is proving. Herzog connects the person of Jesus with Paulo Freire in suggesting that the former's parables formed part of a very clear pedagogy of the oppressed. This is challenging when you've only ever previously thought of the parables as 'earthly stories with heavenly meanings'.
    They have been viewed in this way because Jesus was thought to be a teacher of spiritual truth and divine wisdom. However, this view of Jesus stands in some tension with the account of his final trial and execution. If Jesus was a teacher of heavenly truths dispensed through literary gems called parables, it is difficult to understand how he could have been executed as a political subversive and crucified between two social bandits. It appears that Jerusalem elites collaborating with their Roman overlords executed Jesus because he was a threat to their economic and political interests. Unless they perceived him to be a threat, they would not have publicly degraded and humiliated him before executing him in as ignominious a way as possible.
    Herzog makes it possible to bring together the teacher who spoke in parables and the subversive who threatened the ruling powers of his day - by 'seeing the parables of Jesus as a form of subversive speech; and by interpreting his public role as a pedagogue (educator) of the oppressed and thus political threat'. Powerful stuff.