How does Jesus' use of parables of reversal challenge the understanding of the kingdom of God among his contemporaries (See chapter V of Christian Footings)? Based on your reading of Albl and...

  1. How does Jesus' use of parables of reversal challenge the understanding of the kingdom of God among his contemporaries (See chapter V of Christian Footings)?
  2. Based on your reading of Albl and Imperato, do you think the Gospels offer an accurate view of Jesus? Why or why not?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Imperato suggests that the use of parables was a direct challenge to the understanding that Jesus's contemporaries had to the kingdom of God. Imperato argues that this was deliberate on Jesus's part.  The use of a parable was meant to inspire a sense of reversal, shifting consciousness into a form of transformation of what is into what can or could be.  In using parables in this manner, Imperato argues that Jesus challenged the understanding of the kingdom of God amongst his contemporaries.

Imperato asserts that the challenges Jesus issued through his use of reversal is evident when one sees the structures that existed at the time of his preaching. Jesus encountered a social and political structure which featured those who were on the "inside."  The use of the parable was meant to generate understanding and empathy for those on the "outside" of this structure. In such a condition, Imperato argues that Jesus could not be seen as anything but a force of contradiction.  For those who represented established notions of power, the parable was meant to challenge their prevailing notion regarding the kingdom of God and their place in it:  "What Jesus meant by God's ruling power not only does not fit very well into the expectations of his contemporaries, but also serves as a challenge to the hearers of his parables." The use of the reversal in the parable was a part of it.  In this idea, Imperato suggests that "reversal' refers to the reversal of values that comes when a person encounters God's power."  For example, Imperato cites the "insider/ outsider" dynamic which is the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Pharisee and the tac collector, and the rich man and Lazarus.  In these parables, the kingdom of God is open to the individual who lacks temporal notions of power, while the individual who exists in the position of power lacks the understanding to enter into God's kingdom.  In its transformation of power, Jesus's parables sought to challenge the understanding of the individual listening. Accordingly, the vision of God's kingdom proved to be radically different than the existing power structures that surrounded Jesus.

The analysis that Imperato and Albl both offer can be seen as suggesting that the Gospels offer an accurate view of Jesus in how they inspire faith. Imperato's analysis of the use of the parable almost transcends accuracy. Given the parables' consistent theme that power for the individual lies in their submission to the divine and apart from the temporal temptations that exist, their accuracy is not as relevant to their meaning.  There are insiders and there are outsiders.  Those in the latter who take the divine into their hearts and minds are individuals that Jesus feels are worthy of God's kingdom.  Those that have power in this life who reject the divine will be denied entrance.  These realities are accurate and the use of the parable underscores that such realities exist. In this regard, Imperato asserts that the Gospels which are filled with parables offer an accurate view of Jesus for they speak to the conditions where his teachings make the most amount of sense.

At the same time, Albl makes the point that the Gospels were not meant to be historically accurate and did not intend on developing an fully fleshed out characterization of Jesus.  Rather, Albl sees the purpose of the Gospels as one that put aside historical accuracy in the name of spiritual revivification.  He quotes the gospel of John as one such example of this:  "But these [signs of Jesus] are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God" (20:31)."  The account featured in the Book of Luke affirms such an idea: "... that you may realize the certainty of the teachings [basic theological beliefs about Jesus] you have received" (1:4).  Albl suggests that writers of the Gospels suggest that historical accuracy and characterization development are secondary to the instillment of faith that drives their accounts.