Why did Jesus and the Prophets Tell Stories to Their Audience?
J Sam Daniel Stalin
What makes teachings of Jesus Christ engaging and relevant across the world even after two thousand years? Well, His stories or parables synonymous with his messages do play a keyrole and it triggers the question why Jesus and the prophets made stories part of their teachings. Jesus Christ alone had used more than 30 parables. As a Journalist and media person I believe Jesus used stories as a powerful tool for effective communication in a bid to fulfill His divine and spiritual mission in an era mass media, electronic gadgets and social media were unheard. While his style still remains a role model worth emulating, here are some perspectives and dimensions of His parables that tell why Jesus made this his signature style.
Earthly Stories, Heavenly Lessons:
Stories draw attention and help audiences understand the idea easily, quickly and clearly. Any message told through lives of people humanises the story. It brings in credibility, sustains interest, helps people relate to and has the potential to kindle their curiosity and intellect favourably. In the parable of the “Ten Virgins” for instance Jesus uses a common tradition of bridegroom visiting the bride at night and virgins receiving the man, to instruct on the Christian need to be prepared for the second coming and any laxity or non-compliance could be an eternal loss.
Power of Imagery
Jesus I believe must have been upto speed or tech savvy of sorts in His times, using the story telling model with a good strike or success rate. His oral parables largely evoke rich visual imagery, giving abundant room for listeners and readers to imagine a strong visual form of the story, increasing chances of those spiritual lessons getting embedded in their hearts and minds. Imagine the visual impact of listening to His waiting wise and foolish virgins, arrival of the bridegroom, trimmed lamps, oil, jars and the desperate run for oil. The simple analogy very easily explains Jesus’ larger message of being prepared.
Jesus Christ would have found it challenging to deal with large crowds he addressed. It would help to transport ourselves to Jesus’ times when there was no electricity, no public address system like the mic and speakers, no mass media like our radio and television for live transmission and neither social media. This meant He had to speak in such a way and form, His words would be heard, overcoming the noise of large gatherings and manifold distractions of the times to reach out to people of all ages, educational and social backgrounds. Stories, in that sense would have struck a chord with a bulk of the audience paving way for His smooth address.
Instructing & Impacting Children:
Jesus loved children and He has tailored his preaching with stories to make them connect with little souls as well. Many of his stories are so short, with just a few lines or verses to easily sync with children simplifying profound spiritual thoughts. Even today these parables make an indelible impact on young children and turn into a lifetime bedrock of their faith. In the parable of the two builders for instance, using the simple example of a house built on a rock and one built on sand Jesus helps little children understand the need to obey and the consequences of disobedience.
The Eternal Life Purpose:
The aim of Jesus Christ’s teachings is to help people believe in Him, The Father and The Holy Spirit so they could earn an eternal life. The structure of his stories have a message in themselves too, for a life pleasing in his sight. No pompous words in prayer — underscoring humility; no complicated long sentences but short and easy to understand — emphasizing no meaningless babbling.
Parables for Disciples:
Jesus often did not explain the meaning of the parables to the public, but he explained it to the disciples, says Rev Dr John M Prasad, Centre for Peace Studies, Madras Christian College.
“The parables sometimes were seen as riddles, and explained only to the disciples, not to the other listeners. Many times, the listeners other than the disciples were at a loss to understand the meaning of the parables. So, it may be argued that Jesus used parables to teach certain things to the disciples, but kept it away from others”, Dr Prasad observes.
Parables that ‘shock’:
The parables of Jesus can sometimes shock us, just like the prophets of the Old Testament acted in strange ways as instructed by God, to shock people into awareness, but revealed God’s purpose, says Dr. S. Gabriel.
“In the New Testament, Jesus curses a fig tree when he finds no fruit (even though it was not the season), showing that his followers are expected to bear fruit at all times. Jesus’ acquaintance with the socially outcast is meant to show the equality of all people in the eyes of God. Humble service is symbolised when Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. Jesus’ cleansing of the temple courtyard illustrates his anger against the injustice, of the those who sold merchandise and animals for sacrifice, towards the poor, the gentiles and the outcasts. As Simeon said of Jesus when the child Jesus was presented to him, “he will be a sign that will be apposed”. Surely Jesus continues to challenge us not only in the parables and in His teachings, but by the parable that He himself is”.
The Parable Purpose and Responses:
The parables of Jesus almost invariably had two kinds of people with different responses: One was the group of disciples, besides many who followed Him eager to listen and learn, says Dr. S. Gabriel.
The other comprised of the Pharisees, Scribes, Chief Priests who wanted to fault Jesus along with a crowd of people who followed out of curiosity to watch Jesus perform miracles. Those who perceived and accepted Jesus’ teachings had their spiritual eyes and ears opened. But to those who were averse to Jesus’ teachings or were indifferent, the parables meant nothing. Whatever the response, the parables of Jesus had one aim: to teach, to correct, to admonish sinners and to explain God’s Kingdom values
While storytelling has become an integral part of our lives, the model has made inroads into today’s print and broadcast media space. Case studies and profiling are trendy forms of reportage to tell a story in a humane and compelling way, be it the common price rise or a catastrophe amid a war.
Trending Story Telling:
Attention span rapidly declines among younger audience. Researches have found youngsters don’t have the patience to read anything longer than the screen size of their mobile phones. It takes just a few seconds of watching a video or reading a message for them to decide if they want to watch or read it fully. Hence story telling continues to take new forms to engage with contemporary audiences and brevity, is yet again the in thing. Certainly Jesus’ parables are role models indeed even today .
(J Sam Daniel Stalin is a seasoned Television Journalist. Known for his credible, unbiased and ethical reportage, Sam has covered a range of issues from India, Europe and the US including politics, sports, environment, business, entertainment among others. He was the first to report from Nagapattinam when the Tsunami struck. He has Interviewed a range of leaders, bureaucrats, celebrities and nobel laureates. His reports have brought about changes and held power to account. An alumnus of the premier Madras Christian College Sam has won several awards and fellowships. A British Chevening Fellow, The Media Project Fellow, IVLP alumnus and a Ted X speaker, Sam is based in Chennai.)