New Book by Carlow University’s Matthew Gordley Examines Social Justice in Jesus’s Parables

Carlow’s Interim Provost and Dean Engages Multiple Traditions to Explore Overlooked Themes

For nearly two-thousand years the parables (short stories told by Jesus to his followers and recorded in the New Testament) have invited listeners in each new generation to reflect on what a simple story might have to say about important spiritual matters. Over the centuries since, those parables have been studied, interpreted, and occasionally misinterpreted by those who retold them. Even to this day there is a surprisingly wide range of meaning that readers attribute to these fascinating vignettes from the first century.

Jesus’s parables and the concept of social justice is the subject of a new book by Matthew Gordley, PhD, interim provost and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Carlow University. His new book is titled Social Justice in the Stories of Jesus: The Ethical Challenge of the Parables, published by Wiley-Blackwell.

“This is a book for all who have an interest in what Jesus taught and how he taught it. It offers a way of reading the parables not simply as stories with spiritual lessons but rather as a key part of Jesus’s message challenging his listeners to embody an ethic of love, mercy, and justice,” said Dr. Gordley. “Seen in this way, the parables have implications for many of the social and human rights issues we are facing in our society today.”

He began working on this book in 2018, but the idea originated early in his tenure at Carlow when he was teaching a class for first-year students that connected a topic in the humanities with the heritage and values of the Sisters of Mercy. Part of the class included the students performing a small act of mercy each day throughout the course and then reflecting on the act as they applied the readings that they had for the class. Most intriguing is how the teaching and reflections on the parables have shifted over time, particularly in the past decade.

“Since that time, it feels like the world has changed dramatically in some unpredictable and unsettling ways,” said Dr. Gordley. “Not only the world but some segments of north American Christianity have been changing as well to the point where it seems that messages of exclusion and intolerance–things that one would think were incompatible with the love of Jesus for people in need–are praised as virtues.”

In drafting this book, he engaged writers and activists from multiple faith traditions to examine the parables in their first-century cultural setting, and how they have the potential to challenge all of us today. Among those who contributed their perspectives were eight Sisters of Mercy: Mary-Paula Cancienne, Anne Curtis, Mary Kay Dobrovolny, Diane Guerin, Mailyn Lacey, Cynthia Seljak, Judy Schubert, and Carlow’s own Sister Sheila Carney, RSM.

“With an eye toward first-century culture and the role of stories in antiquity, this book examines how the teaching of Jesus has something to say to all of us today as we wrestle with some very complex and daunting social justice issues,” said Dr. Gordley.

Social Justice in the Stories of Jesus: The Ethical Challenge of the Parables is published by Wiley-Blackwell and was released January 9, 2024.

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