A Curious Faith will be on hiatus for July and August,
but we’ll be back in September with thought-provoking posts
from members and friends of Hudson River Presbytery.
The Sunday adult education class at First Presbyterian Church of Yorktown has been reading Short Stories by Jesus, a book written, not by Jesus, but by Amy-Jill Levine. Levine is University Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School. She describes herself as a “Yankee Jewish feminist who teaches in a predominately Christian divinity school in the buckle of the Bible Belt.”
We have been challenged by her suggestion that our reaction to parables should be resistance, not acceptance. Jesus’s parables aren’t stories for children; they are stories asking us to look at our own lives, our values, and see how well we are “walking the talk.” Parables were a part of Jewish life at the time of Jesus. They appear in the Tanakh (the Jewish scriptures of Torah, Nevi’im or Prophets, and Ketuvim or Writings), they would have been told by ordinary people. They are a major part of Jewish culture Levine tells us.
We have enjoyed watching her on the DVD that accompanies the small group discussion guide-she’s intense, she’s funny, and most importantly she makes us think. She encourages us to start with the literal interpretation of a parable–“sometimes a mustard seed is just a mustard seed” she reminds us as we read the parable of the mustard seed as recounted by Matthew, Mark and Luke.
Some of us are hearing these parables as if for the first time. In some cases, Levine suggests new titles. The parable of the Prodigal Son becomes the parable of the LostSon, and suddenly we are looking at the two sons differently. The parable begins “Some man had two sons” and Levine asks who else had two sons? We know about Cain and Abel, Esau and Jacob. She tells us that “all biblically literate listeners know to identify with the youngerson (italics mine).” But in this case the younger son isn’t the righteous Abel, or the faithful Isaac, or the clever Jacob.
Surprise! And then the punchline—who have we lost, who have we overlooked, who have we taken for granted?
As I listen, really listen, to the parables Jesus tells, I no longer hear “sweet stories” but instead I feel as though I am being poked with a “sharp stick.” I am being prodded, pushed to think more deeply than I might want to think, dared to ask what do I really value? And am I living those values?
Connie Knapp is a Ruling Elder and a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Yorktown. She is a participant in the Commissioned Ruling Elders program of the Hudson River Presbytery. Connie currently serves as Moderator-Elect of the Hudson River Presbytery during 2019.