The power of story telling

Like all good teachers Jesus hardly ever answered a question directly. He either replied with a counter question or told a story, or parable. He never imposed truth on anyone; he let it seep up slowly, even hesitantly, from the gut.

Parables as paradox

Jesus’ heroes were never conventional heroes. Lazarus, the shiftless beggar, got an entrance ticket to heaven apparently for doing nothing, just being poor. (Lk 16.19-31) The good Samaritan, who put himself into danger by helping the beaten traveller on the road, was a despised foreigner. (Lk 10.25-27)

On the other hand, those with apparent business acumen and dazzling CVs, like the rich merchant (Lk 12.16-21), died unexpected deaths, and Dives stood before judgment and hell. The rich merchant had farmed so successfully that he needed to build more barns, while Dives had laid on sumptuous feasts for his friends and didn’t even notice Lazarus at the gate. That seems the extent of their crimes.

Finding meaning in the message

Even in the stories where there seem to be clear winners, a further search poses deeper questions. The merchant who sold everything to gain the pearl of great price (Mt 13.45-46) – was he going to sit around all day looking at it? As for the story of the prodigal son, who is to be commended? The father who foolishly doted on his erratic boy? The younger son, whose motives for returning home were dubious? Or the older son, whose loyalty and hard work may have been just a waiting game, waiting for his father’s death? (Lk 11.15-32)

These stories are like pools in a slow flowing stream. They gleam attractively, but once we jump in we find them much deeper than we guessed and full of unseen hazards. They stop us in our tracks, making us ask questions such as, how real is my virtue? Do I really love and serve others or do my own needs subtly shape my relationships?

If we persist in reflecting on these stories, we’ll find that we stop interpreting them and they begin interpreting us.

Father Neil Vaney

Next steps

This writing is based on the content of ‘What Catholics Believe’, Booklet 3, ‘Jesus Christ’ referencing the whole booklet. Should you like to read more just click either of the links below to download ‘Booklet 3’ or the complete set of ‘What Catholics Believe’.