My friend Bill Nolan, pastoral associate at St. Thomas Apostle church, writes a weekly column for his parish which he also distributes by e-mail.
During his public ministry, Jesus often taught through the use of stories. The Gospels record something in the range of 30 parables he used to teach his followers. Jesus understood something that Bill realized early in his ministry: the power of stories to compel us.
In his weekly column he focused on the stories we hear in Lent. Bill writes:
The liturgical readings of Lent include some of the greatest of all Scripture stories. From the Old Testament, we have the tales of the creation and the fall of humanity; the call of Abram, who became Abraham; the panic and lack of faith shown by the Hebrews in the desert; the call and the anointing of David as King. From the Gospels, we have the stories of the devil’s temptation of Jesus; the Transfiguration; the Samaritan woman at the well; the man born blind; the raising of Lazarus. All incredible stories, filled with wisdom and sources of moral reflection. They are not stories of perfect people, but perfect stories of real people struggling to live the life God calls them to live and trying to overcome the doubts and struggles of faith that all – yes, even Jesus – had to entertain as a part of their human nature.
Stories are teaching tools because, unlike doctrine alone, they are personal. They allow the hearer to go inside the characters and feel their struggles, relate to their questions, identify with their suffering. Stories don’t tell us what to do or not do, they show us people doing and not doing it. Stories don’t warn of consequences for wrong behavior, they illustrate the consequences that characters face as a result of the choices made. Stories do not promise rewards, they invite us to experience the joy that rewards provide by mimicking the good behavior of beloved characters.
Bill encourages his readers to reflect on the stories of Lent. You might want to ask yourself some of the questions he suggests:
Which characters do you most identify with?
Which situations have you experienced in your own life?
Which lessons have you also learned? Which ones do you still need to?
Bill ended his column with a line he uses frequently when talking about the stories we read in the Bible: All of them are true and some them actually happened.