Church column - Jesus told stories to help others grasp life

editorial image

Jesus was a story teller, like other rabbis of his day he was well known for telling a good story to get his point across.

He told stories of farmers and fathers, seeds and trees. Stories of everyday life and ordinary situations. His stories were usually short, tweetable, memorable, simple and yet deeply challenging. His stories usually took familiar happenings and turned them on their head, typical beginnings led to unexpected conclusions. I suspect that most of us like stories.

Be it Scandi Noir, the Daily Mail, Jane Austen or the latest adventure film, we enjoy participating in the journey of a good story. Getting to know the characters, the twists and turns, risk and suspense of the story, the blend of exciting uncertainty and comforting predictability that draws us in and keeps us going to the end.

However intellectual or practical we might think ourselves, however, little we pay attention to what is on at the cinema or on the best seller lists we are storied beings. We become and know ourselves through story just as we experience and explain ourselves through story.

Our stories are rarely as tidy and contained as those pared down stories useful for our enlightenment, enjoyment and escape, yet story remains our best and most natural way of expressing ourselves.

Of course, our stories are much more rich and complex than Tolstoy or Spielberg could narrate fully. However, they are also shaped by the partial stories we surround ourselves with. These stories of film, novel, science and history form the basis of our imagination, they push and pull on our sense of self, they determine what we consider possible, they shape our experience of our own stories and so have an impact on how we live into the story that we are writing in the living of our lives.

All stories have a point, they have a direction, they incline the reader towards or away from something. They feed a hunger for adventure or romance or community or change and though it is exceptional for a person to be radically changed by encounter with a single story, , a lifetime’s formation in our cultural inheritance of ten thousand stories, from Disney to Dante, each story has a vast and immeasurably powerful impact on who we are and who we are becoming.

This is why Jesus told stories. Stories that were at once familiar and shocking, stories to unpick and reshape our usual stories, stories to challenge the stories we tell ourselves and tell about ourselves. Jesus told stories of superabundant harvests and forgiving and loving fathers, stories of good and generous foreigners and of people giving up everything for a precious treasure.

Jesus told such stories to help people who thought they understood life to grasp it on a deeper level, to discover and connect with the remarkable grace of God that lies hidden in plain sight just beneath the surface of existence.