I wonder how many of us remember the late, lamented crooner, Max Bygraves. He had one of those catch-phrases, which impressionists would copy, so that everyone knew, straight away, who they were impersonating. For Max Byrgraves, it was ‘I wanna tell you a story’.
Then, old Max would start to sing - all sorts of wonderful, imaginary stories. There was the question ‘ What noise annoys an oyster?’. There was that song about the imaginary tiny house, by a tiny sea, in Gillegilleosenfefacatsanellenbogan-by the sea. And then there was my favourite - ‘You’re a pink toothbrush’ - the story of a romance between a pink dental hygiene instrument, and a blue one!
The genius of Max Byrgraves, like so many before him, was that he realised human beings are hard-wired for stories. We love them. From Homer’s Iliad, and the story of Noah’s Ark, to the latest movies on our screen, or the novels on our shelves, there’s nothing we enjoy more than losing ourselves in a good story.
Stories have power you see. We see ourselves, and our lives, reflected back at us in stories. We identify ourselves, or at least our aspirations of who we would like to be, in the lines of stories. Romantic stories wake up our emotions, and help us to find the romance in our own lives. Heroic tales of ‘daring do’ enable us to imagine ourselves as the hero of the story. They lift our eyes and our hearts to bigger, greater horizons.
Stories in the Bible are no exception. The stories of the Hebrew Bible are often centred around a ‘great hero’ who, by obeying God’s command carries out a great a mighty deed. Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Daniel - they are all heroes, made of heroic stuff, which inspire us to also seek God’s will and to become heroes ourselves.
Jesus understood the power of story. Which is why he told so many parables. But when his disciples asked him why he used so many parables, he reply - as we just heard - was enigmatic, to say the least.
We don’t have the time for a line-by-line examination of the Gospel text. But what I think Jesus was pointing to was this: he noticed that the people had become deaf to the wisdom of God, especially as it was taught to them by the religious leaders of the day. They taught the people rules and regulations, dogmas to be believed and followed. But the result, as Jesus says, was that “seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.”
Jesus attempted to break through the log-jam, by re-imagining the faith in terms of stories. These were stories about fishermen and bakers, farmers and home-makers - ordinary people, in fact. He invited his listeners to see themselves in these stories, just as story-tellers have always done. He sought to awaken their imaginations, and by doing so to re-awaken their hearts to receive the message of God’s love.
We too are invited to do the same. When we read the Scriptures, we are invited not to get too bogged down in the questions of the theologians - the detailed questions about whether this event or that really happened exactly as it was recorded. Or whether this or that story is provable by modern archaeology. We are invited, instead, to ask what this story says to our heart. How does it lift our imaginations beyond the humdrum, every day nature of our existence? How does it inspire us to go further, go deeper, be braver, more loving, more steadfast?
So when you read the Creation story, don’t worry about how many days it was completed in. Ask yourself, instead, how you can be involved in God’s ongoing act of creation.
When you read the story of Moses crossing the Red Sea, don’t get caught up in questions of how likely or unlikely the story is. Rather, focus on what barriers are in your life, and how you might begin to cross them.
When you read of tiny David defeating gigantic Goliath, don’t get caught up in the questions about who the Philistines were and still are today. Instead, take courage that even you, with your small skills, can make a difference in the world.
Let the power of these stories, and the parables of Jesus seep into your heart. Let them challenge and encourage you, to ever greater works for the Kingdom of Heaven. Amen.
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