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John Dominic Crossan: The Power of Parable

John Dominic Crossan

The Power of Parable: How fiction by Jesus became fiction about Jesus

ISBN: 9780 2810 6811 1

SPCK, London, 2012, 256pp, £10.99


Since seminary I have understood parables as dangerous little stories. They are like plants taking root in a sidewalk crack that eventually break up the hard smooth surface of the sidewalk. Parables do the same for our religious and spiritual imagination. However, seminary was a long time ago, and I haven’t pursued the disruptive potential of parables very far since. The Power of Parable is an easy-to-read guide into a deeper understanding of parables.

In this book Crossan excavates the Scriptural fissures created by the parables. First he provides a helpful scheme for distinguishing different kinds of parables and examines how they function in the Scriptures. He writes about riddle parables, example parables, challenge parables and attack parables. Some parables morph from category to category depending on who is telling the story. Under Crossan’s keen teaching the Scriptures become as lively as The Washington Week in Review with authors challenging each other in different understandings of how God works in the world and how we participate in that Divine work.

For instance he demonstrates how ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ appears over and over in Matthew’s Gospel versions of Jesus’ parables. It is unique to Matthew, so the question is, ‘What is Matthew up to?’ Matthew is caught up in a ‘stern family feud in the 80’s between Christian Jewish scholars and Pharisaic Jewish scholars.’ I find that kind of insight liberating. Beginning to distinguish the voices and purposes of the Scripture writers, the reader can learn to listen for the authentic voice and message of Jesus.

Repeatedly Crossan emphasizes that Jesus is non-violent and we are called to oppose violence and ‘co-create with God a world of justice and love, peace and non-violence.’

This is a remarkable and important book.

Clark Berge SSF