Those Peasant Parables
Over the next few weeks I'll be looking at some of Jesus' parables from a "peasant" point of view, or how the stories may have been heard in an agrarian society by non-elites. Context Group scholars have been the pioneers of this approach, particularly Richard Rohrbaugh, John Elliot, Douglas Oakman, and William Herzog.
While I disagree with attempts of these scholars to marginalize (or erase) apocalyptic dimensions to the parables, they're right about one thing: the parables weren't abstract existential or quasi-gnostic codes concerned with an individual's relationship to God, nor even literary constructs intended to tease people into open-minded "democratic" thinking. They had punch, and were prophetically critical of social horrors. As William Herzog puts it, they weren't "earthly stories with heavenly meanings, but earthy stories with heavy meanings, weighted down by an awareness of the workings of exploitation" (Parables as Subversive Speech, p 3). The parables may have hinted at implications about the coming kingdom of God, but -- aside from a few -- they weren't directly about the kingdom. They focused, as I see it, on the evils of the present age by way of contrast with the apocalypse.
I'll examine the following stories in a series of five posts:
1. The Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32)
2. The Unmerciful Servant (Mt 18:23-34)
3. The Mustard Seed (Mk 4:30-32/Mt 13:31-32/Lk 13:18-19/Thom 20)
4. The Talents (Mt 25:14-30)
5. The Dishonest Steward (Lk 16:1-8a)
As we will see, these are representative of the parable corpus in different ways.