Reading the Parables

Richard Lischer
Westminster John Knox Press
Published Year: 
reading the parables

Richard Lischer, James T. and Alice Mead Cleland Professor of Preaching at Duke Divinity School, has written a companion volume to the Interpretation series of Bible commentaries published by Westminster John Knox Press. 

Reading the Parables is a wide-ranging exploration of the parables of Jesus designed as a resource for teaching and preaching in the church. It was published in September 2014. Although not a commentary, the book offers extended reflections on every parable in the Gospels. Since parables are most often read in the context of worship, it draws extensively from the preaching of the church.

The distinctive feature of Lischer’s volume is the many lenses through which he reads the parables. After an introduction, he outlines four distinct theories of reading the parables, including his most controversial thesis, that the parables tell the truth by undermining the established “truths” of religious culture.

Focused on reading rather than fixed doctrinal conclusions, the book “reads” with a rich company of interpreters, including the first three readers: Mark, Matthew, and Luke. Lischer also reads Jesus’ stories in conversation with other parabolic storytellers, most notably, Soren Kierkegaard and Franz Kafka. He engages contemporary socio-economic readings of Jesus’ parables and comments extensively on the troubling presence of slaves and slavery in the stories Jesus told. The book ends with a comparative celebration of the Good Samaritan as interpreted by Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Julian of Norwich, Martin Luther King, Jr., and the rural people of Nicaragua.

Resisting one definitive interpretation of the parables of Jesus, Lischer opts for a medieval and postmodern multiplicity of readings, all of which are focused on the person of the “Teller” and the communal life and struggles of believers.

A member of the Duke faculty since 1979, Lischer has taught courses on preaching and the parables for 25 years.