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10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.

Humanity has been telling stories since the dawn of creation. There is something deeply human about wanting to follow someone’s journey of transformation and growth. It’s the reason we love Lord of the Rings. It’s the reason Disney is a cultural icon. It’s the reason Harry Potter is a household name. It’s also the reason the movie industry grossed $38 billion in 2016. We love stories. But, we don’t only love stories because they provide us with entertainment, they also create space for exploration. Stories force us to ask questions about our life, they create tension around the values we hold, and they prod us along on our own journey of becoming.

Jesus was a master storyteller. He told parables (stories) that caused people to think. They caused people to ask questions about God, about religion, and about their lives. At one point, his disciples asked him why he used stories to teach. Listen to Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of his response in Matthew 13:10-13, “The disciples came up and asked, ‘Why do you tell stories?’ He replied, ‘You’ve been given insight into God’s kingdom. You know how it works. Not everybody has this gift, this insight; it hasn’t been given to them. Whenever someone has a ready heart for this, the insights and understandings flow freely. But if there is no readiness, any trace of receptivity soon disappears. That’s why I tell stories: to create readiness, to nudge the people toward receptive insight. In their present state they can stare till doomsday and not see it, listen till they’re blue in the face and not get it.’” Jesus told stories to create readiness. His parables were and are designed to stir the imagination and the heart of the listener. They are intended to both comfort and distress.

One of the ways good stories create growth is by inviting the listener into a picture being painted. In a sense, stories create a house that the listener is invited to explore. They intrinsically ask the reader and listener where they are in the story. Jesus’ triad of parables in Luke 15 are no different – he wants the listeners to place themselves in the parables. He wants them to wrestle with whether they are more like the older brother or the younger brother. Whether they are like the lost coin or the searching woman. Jesus’ use of parables is prolific and intentional. He was a master teacher and stories were his favorite medium. Think back over this past year, what was your favorite story (book, movie, podcast, etc.)? Spend some time thinking about what you liked about it. How did it challenge you? How did it create tension in your soul? How did it comfort?

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By Ryan Paulson  

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