The Parables of Jesus
Earnest Graham; Peace Hill Press, 2013
I will be the first to confess: I was pretty skeptical of a graphic novel version of the parables. Actually, skepticism is my general stance towards graphic novel versions of anything. This is largely an inexcusable bias, combining the naive feeling that these are books for elementary-aged boys with a general snobbishness towards things with pictures. An unbecoming attitude in a blogger about children’s books, I know. Which is why I went ahead and ordered Earnest Graham’s The Parables of Jesus when I happened across it, poking around over at Peace Hill Press — there’s nothing like self-improvement as an excuse to buy new books!
And since you’re seeing this review here, obviously I’m glad I did. I was wrong about graphic novels, mea culpa, et cetera et cetera. (In fact, reading it reminded me that as a kid, I loved comic collections – specifically Garfield books, embarrassingly enough! – and I just had to bring back a copy of Asterix the Gaul for my daughter from Paris. She was surprised and delighted. It’s fun to keep my kids on their toes.)
To be clear: The Parables of Jesus is not a comic-book serial of the parables. In fact, I should apologize to Mr Graham for even referring to Garfield in the same review. (I’m sorry.) In truth, the reason I loved the book, and the whole idea of a graphic novelization of the parables, is because I think it gives them to us much like the first hearers would have received them: in pictures.
What are parables if not pictures, images, metaphors to help us imagine a kingdom that is not of this world? That is utterly unlike anything we would dream up ourselves? Just like Jesus’ crowds, we need to have our imaginations jolted awake, enlivened, and reshaped. But we live in a culture in which these word-pictures are as old as the hills, and have been committed to dusty parchment. (Or worse: Sunday School melodies, which commit the words to memory while emptying them of any power to surprise or transform.) I found that seeing them drawn out, embodied on the page, made them new and fresh and challenging.
This visual re-imagining of the parables is faithful in two important ways: first, the words are only those of Scripture. The pictures depict one possible embodiment of those words; and, well, isn’t that the point of the parables? As Jesus speaks them to us, we all imagine and envision them for ourselves. We are invited into someone else’s faithful imagining, and our own imagination is prodded awake. And second, I especially loved the choice to set each of the parables against a different cultural backdrop. The parable of the sower happens on the African savanna; the landowner finds her day-laborers in a dusty border town; and the farmer whose crop is infested with an enemy’s weeds harvests them in rural Japan. Like the best stories, Jesus’ parables are deeply situated in their time and place (first century Galilee), but manage to reach powerfully across time and culture. They’re both strange and familiar; inviting and challenging; comforting and transformative at the same time. I want my children to encounter the parables in just this way, as living stories that are compelling, powerful, strange and exciting. This collection by Earnest Graham gives them to us as such, and I’m awfully grateful.