Twenty years ago - as a young pastor - I was captured by the writings of Kenneth Bailey on the parables of Jesus. He wrote a book in 1976 that lay dormant for years. I discovered it in the mid-80s (published in the same cover with a second book) and had it by my side as I preached through the parables of Luke. By the early 90s the world finally "got it" and the fresh editions and printings have been churning out. The latest edition of it looks like this...
Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes (Eerdmans, 1983 - combined edition).
Kenneth Bailey lived 60 years of his life in the Middle East. His basic thesis is that "when the cultural base of the Church ceased to be Palestinian, the parables inevitably became stories about foreigners. This foreignness is what we have called the cultural problem"(27). It is hard to solve this problem! As with any culture the critical attitudes are assumed and unstated and rarely explained. It becomes a kind of cultural innuendo in the text that needs to be surfaced and spoken. This is what Bailey does with the help of comparative literature, interviewing and observing the peasant communities who tend to be 'changeless', utilising 25 research people from Sudan to Iran etc etc
Anyone who has lived in another culture realises just how simply profound this all is. And as the globe shrinks and migrants move and languages are learned and cultures mingle people have discovered the value of Bailey's work.
And the news just gets better. In the last few months Bailey has published another book. It is called Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes: cultural studies in the gospel (IVP, 2008). Here he reconnects again with the parables - but also with the Birth of Jesus, the Beatitudes, the Lord's Prayer, 'Dramatic Actions of Jesus', and 'Jesus and Women' ... all with this desire "to understand more adequately the stories of the gospels in the light of Middle-Eastern culture" (11). As it is his conviction that Middle Eastern Christians are "the forgotten faithful ... (having) evaporated from Western consciousness after the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451" (11), you can see how he just loves quoting old Christian Arab scholars from yester-century that nobody has heard of. Ibn al-Tayyib and Matta al-Miskin, for starters.
Teachers and preachers arise! Here is a fabulous resource that will bring refreshment and enthusiasm to a year of sermons!!
And if you become a Bailey-aholic then keep an eye out for Jacob and the Prodigal (IVP, 2003) where he identifies 51 points of contrast and comparison between the Saga of Jacob (Gen 27-35) and the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Jesus "deliberately creates a new story patterned after the Jacob story and offers his people a revised identity story with himself at the center ... (Luke 15) is a reshaping of the saga of Jacob" (15). Or if you wish to feature Luke 15 even more - maybe with Henri Nouwen's Return of the Prodigal at hand as well - then consider Finding the Lost: cultural keys to Luke 15 (Concordia, 1995).