November 7, 2008
Last night just over three hundred people gathered to hear Dr. Amy-Jill Levine (http://www.vanderbilt.edu/gradschool/religion/faculty/facultypages/levine.html ) give the fifth Ann Evans Woodall lecture at All Saints. Some groups had read her book on Jesus and we had been prepared by a series of talks from local rabbis Jeffrey Salkin (http://judaismmatters.org/blog ) and Benyamin Cohen (http://myjesusyear.com ). Dr. Levine share from her current work on Jesus’ parables, sometimes challenging traditional Christian readings and sometimes affirming them. Her basic understanding of a parable was that a parable is a story that is more about what it does than what it says, and what it does is effectively ‘rock our world’ (my phrase rather than hers). The parable is something that we chew on and talk about asking both about how Jesus’ audience may have heard the story and also how we hear it today.
Among others she spent quite some time on the parable of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal, both of which we talk about extensively on Adult Enquirers’ Retreats. I was struck by her emphasis on the Samaritan as ‘enemy’, a person who wanted to kill you if you were a Jew, and a person from whom you would rather not receive help. I’ll have to do some more thinking a reading about Samaritans but this was a new idea for me and I suspect she has overstated the case for the majority of Jews and Samaritans, but probably not at the expense of the point of the story. I found myself thinking about people who would not have an organ transplant if the organ came from someone they disliked or of whom they were afraid. What matters is the gift.
On the prodigal, she covered much of the same ground that we cover on retreats: looking at both of the sons, the absent mother, the question as to whether the story is really about repentance or not, and the rather weak father. She did a rally good job on the resonances of ‘a man who had two sons’ with the stories of Genesis and on through the tradition. A good time was had by all.