|The synagogue in Capernaum where Jesus taught|
One reason I tell Bible stories: Jesus told stories.
"How can we picture God's kingdom? What kind of story can we use?"
With many stories, he presented his message to them,
fitting the stories to their experience and maturity.
He was never without a story when he spoke.
- Mark 4:30, 33-34 MSG
Jesus, like any Rabbi of his day, told parables in order to teach. Every Rabbi told many of the same stories; it was the way they interpreted the story that made each teacher unique. It was the way Jesus interpreted the story that made him very different and controversial.
A good parable is like a good stand-up comedy routine. We are drawn into the commonality, the familiar elements of life that we find in the story. We're pulled along by its plot. And then, there is the plot twist, the punch line, the surprising ending to which we all react.
Our reactions reveal what is in our hearts. Who laughs at the story? Who is offended by it? Angered by it? Embarrassed by it?
Jesus told stories not only to instruct, but to reveal.
And this week's story is an excellent example of that.
By this time, the crowds were growing, and they included a lot of people with bad reputations, people whose behavior was considered "bad" by the religious leaders. These "bad" people were listening to Jesus, too. And the religious leaders didn't like it. They didn't like it that Jesus treated them like friends. He was too friendly to people who hadn't earned it.
So Jesus told three stories about lost things and the celebration of finding them.
"There was a man who had two sons...."
I have three sons, so I know: this story has the potential to have a lot of plot twists.
This story has become known as "The Prodigal Son." In fact, it's become imbedded in our culture - a way of referring to any child who fails or embarrasses the family or chooses to go their own way. They are "the prodigal."
But in fact it's a part of a three-story set about lost things, including lost sons. And who is the lost son in this story? Jesus doesn't tell us. But we know from experience that it's entirely possible to live at home, work in the family business, behave yourself and still be as lost as a goose when it comes to what the family is all about.
Family failure is a hard time. It hurts like nobody's business. It's maybe the nearest way we have to understanding how it breaks God's heart when his children do not choose to have a relationship with him or with each other. Relationship is what we were made for. That's part of the really Big Story into which this story fits.
Who will you tell this story to?