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The Parable of Parable
Why stories communicate
‘Once upon a time, Truth went about the streets as naked as the day he was born. As a result, no-one would let him into their homes. Whenever people caught sight of him, they turned away and fled. One day when Truth was sadly wandering about, he came upon Parable. Now, Parable was dressed in splendid clothes of beautiful colors. And Parable, seeing Truth, said, “Tell me, neighbor, what makes you look so sad?” Truth replied bitterly, “Ah, brother, things are bad. Very bad. I’m old, very old, and no-one wants to acknowledge me. No-one wants anything to do with me.”
Hearing that, Parable said, “People don’t run away from you because you’re old. I too am old. Very old. But the older I get, the better people like me. I’ll tell you a secret: Everyone likes things disguised and prettied up a bit. Let me lend you some splendid clothes like mine, and you’ll see that the very people who pushed you aside will invite you into their homes and be glad of your company.”
Truth took Parable’s advice and put on the borrowed clothes. And from that time on, Truth and Parable have gone hand in hand together and everyone loves them. They make a happy pair.’
Yiddish Folktales, Pantheon Books, New York, edited by Beatrice Silverinan Weinreich, ISBN: 0805210903
The example of Jesus
“Jesus was not a theologian; He was God who told stories” - Madeleine L’EngleWe can use parable, as Jesus did, to illustrate the truth by pointing to meanings in books and films and every-day life. It is also very close to the concept of redemptive analogy.
Sermon illustrations are essential to clear communication and are very close to parable. “A sermon without illustrations is like a room without windows.” ( C H Spurgeon)
The word gospel is a direct translation of evangelion in the New Testament, though many modern translations use the equally valid good news. Interestingly, the word gospel comes from the Old English godspel which also means good story. One of the things that makes us human is our imagination &ndashl the ability to visualize a narrative which we cannot see, whether past, present or future, fact or fiction. We are hardwired to create and understand ‘story’, even from a very early age.
“Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet: ‘I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’” (Matthew 13:34-5)As we read the four gospels, we see that Jesus never used scripture as a starting point except in the synagogue. He always used stories about everyday things. Perhaps surprisingly, it is never recorded that He even used a short narrative story from what we now call the Old Testament.
Note how universal this principal is: most TV adverts tell a short narrative story in order to be memorable. Even a humor cartoon usually contains the snapshot of a short story.
Jesus was a storyteller!Why is storytelling so important for world mission? Here are some reasons, collected by Jim Bowman, Director of Scriptures in Use:
- over two-thirds of the world population receive most of their information orally;
- for over one third of the world’s population (more than 2 billion people), oral communication is the only source of information;
- 95% of women in the Islamic world can only be reached through oral communication;
- over 75% of the Bible consists of stories. Adding poetry and proverbs leaves probably less than 10% abstract ‘intellectual’ content;
- traditional Western forms of communication only reach the 10% intellectual elite in unreached people groups, storytelling the rest;
- storytelling turns discouraged, marginalized, semi-literate believers into powerful evangelists and disciplers with great impact, a sense of fulfillment, personal value and new hope.
related pages within the Bridge the gap & Using culture menu links
recommended books on reaching outsiders, including free downloads
valuable online videos about web ministry