Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Storyteller

When you hear the word “theology” what comes to your mind first?

Most likely you first think of theology as the study of God. You may also have the image of a gray-haired professor writing on a chalkboard about the attributes of God and how He interacts with mankind. I often think of the numerous Christian literature books I have read that methodically extract the hidden truths contained in the Word of God.

When Jesus sought to teach about God and His kingdom he did not use a chalkboard, a flow chart, or pass out a stack of Theology 101 textbooks. He told stories. Many stories. The majority of Jesus' stories or parables refer to simple everyday things, such as a woman baking bread (parable of the Leaven Bread), a man knocking on his neighbor's door at night (parable of the Friend at Night), or the aftermath of a roadside mugging (parable of the Good Samaritan); yet they deal with major religious themes, such as the growth of the Kingdom of God, the importance of prayer, and the meaning of love.

One notable author states, “To move through the language and imagery of Jesus’ parables offers some fascinating insights into His sensibilities. Webster’s dictionary defines an iconoclast as ‘one who makes attacks on cherished beliefs and institutions, one who destroys or opposes the veneration of religious images.’ Jesus, the master storyteller, was clearly an iconoclast. His parables expressed in words what His actions demonstrated. He shattered idols and blew away preconceived ideas of who God is what men and women are meant to be.”

Upon reading Jesus’ parables, I have often found myself scratching my head at God’s sense of justice and mercy. Why did the prodigal son receive such preferential treatment from his father over his hard working, loyal brother? Why did the king so willingly pardon the unpayable debt from a servant who boasted before him that he would repay him in full? And why on earth did the guys that only worked one hour in the field get the same pay as the guys that worked all day?

The Storyteller unsettles us. Jesus’ parables are an affront to our traditional beliefs about God, justice, and how we are to respond to others. But yet Jesus stands by His stories and urges us, as He did His Jewish audience two thousand years ago, to trust Him. As one writer so eloquently stated when discussing why Jesus taught using parables, “Because, above all, Jesus knew what God was like, so good to the poor, so glad when the lost are found, so overflowing with a father’s love for the returning child, so merciful to the despairing, the helpless and the needy.” This is the God we serve. A God who tells us so tenderly in Romans 5:8 that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. And that all the angels rejoice when ONE sinner repents.

Quite simply, I believe Jesus told us stories because He knew that was the most effective communication vehicle for conveying the love of God to us. Perhaps we would not have understood Him if He just simply stated the truths about who God is and how He loves us in a bunch of declarative sentences. I also believe He taught this way because stories are memorable. The images of His stories are burned in our minds as we think of the father running toward the wayward son and kissing him, the beaten man being bandaged on the side of the road by his sworn enemy, the beggar Lazarus being carried to Abraham’s bosom. These are the pictures that the Lord Jesus left us to provide a glimpse into the heart of God. Over and over again, Jesus reminds us that God does not love the way we do - based on conditions, status, or favor. He accepts us unconditionally regardless of our position in life and regardless of how we will respond in return. All of us are equal at the cross. And His expectation is that we, who call ourselves His disciples, will love others the same. Let’s begin today.

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