The Forty Parables of Jesus

I just finished reading Gerhard Lohfink’s most recent book, The Forty Parables of Jesus. Having benefitted from several of Lohfink’s earlier books, I wanted to like this one more than I did. Part of my reaction was my inability to be interested in worrying about whether something should be considered a parable or a metaphor or an allegory. A greater part was my resistance to Lohfink’s insistence that x is the correct reading of a parable, which runs so counter to the sense of parables having multiple layers of meaning.

Having said that, I am not unhappy I read the book. First, even where I have quarrel with his reading of certain parables, Lohfink causes me to think more deeply about a parable. Second (and this is something I appreciated about Amy Jill-Levine’s book on the parables), there is benefit in his exposition of how Jesus’ original audience would have understood what Jesus was saying and understanding what would have been obvious to those listeners. I also enjoyed the first section of the book, where (before tackling Jesus’ parables) Lohfink shares stories from a variety of traditions and sources as a way of talking about how parables work.

What I have always appreciated about Lohfink, and it is central to his treatment of the parables, is his emphasis on the the centrality to Jesus of the “the kingdom of God.” Indeed, Lohfink suggests that all of Jesus’ parables speak directly or indirectly about the reign or kingdom of God. In his preface (and again near the end of the book) he quotes Lutheran theologian Eberhard Jungel: “The parables not only draw us into the center of Jesus’ proclamation; at the same time they point to the person of the proclaimer, the mystery of Jesus himself.”

I do recommend the book to those who are interested in delving more deeply into Jesus’ parables. Lohfink is not always the easiest read (and the book is somewhat scholarly in tone), but it is readable even to those who are not scholars. If someone asked me, I’d probably recommend not to approach the book the way I did – reading it cover to cover. Rather, one might benefit from taking one parable at a time, reading Lohfink’s exposition and then praying with the parable.

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