The Power of StoryApril 12, 2011 - 5:00 am
“My people, hear my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth with a parable;
I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
things our ancestors have told us.”—Psalm 78:1-3
When God sent Nathan to David to confront him about his sin with Bathsheba, Nathan wisely chose to use a story about a rich man, who, in spite of having everything he wanted or needed, stole a poor neighbor’s only sheep to provide a feast for a guest.
Enraged upon hearing the story, David declared that any man who would do such a thing deserves to die and to repay that poor man quadruple what the rich man had taken from him.
That’s when Nathan dropped the bombshell: “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7).
Severely chastened, David could only reply, “I have sinned against the Lord”(2 Samuel 12:13). We get a greater sense of the depth of David’s remorse by reading his full confession in the emotional words of Psalm 51.
Story has the power to convict, to motivate us to change, to help us see ourselves more clearly. The Jewish teachers certainly understood this, and, for thousands of years, used stories called parables, or midrashim in Hebrew, to teach important lessons about faith and about our relationship with God and with others. Jesus, having grown up and educated in the local synagogue, was trained in this method and often used story to convey important life and faith lessons.
For example, when Jesus wanted to teach his followers about what it truly meant to love their neighbor as themselves and to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind,” he drew upon a location and an experience that listeners knew well — the long, isolated, and treacherous road between Jerusalem and Jericho.
We all are familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan, but when Jesus painted a picture of a man, robbed, beaten, and left to die along this desolate road, his listeners knew exactly what he was describing. They could imagine themselves in a similar predicament. They definitely understood what it meant from that parable to love their neighbor, and, in obeying that command, to love God.
When we come to God’s word, we need to allow God to speak to us through that filter of our own experiences. We need to put ourselves into the story and ask what lesson God has for us to learn. Then we need to respond in love and obedience.
That’s the true power of story.