Monday: 30 July, 2012 –– 17th Week in Ordinary Time
Jeremiah 13:1–11 / Matthew 13:31–35
Understanding God’s Stories
People usually like stories. Stories often entertain us. Stories give us tangible images that we can visualize and often place ourselves in the context. Jesus told stories and used common images in much of his teaching. Preachers are often encouraged to follow the model of Jesus and tell more stories.
There are many stories in the Bible beyond those told by Jesus. The Old Testament is full of stories. I knew many of them by the time I was five years old because my parents began reading them to me early. It is an invaluable thing to grow up knowing Bible stories; the Scriptures give a child an incredible foundation for learning to hear God’s voice.
It is important, though, to learn that the stories are not ends in themselves. A person can know the storyline of the great biblical epics and still not know how to hear God’s voice. The stories in the Bible, when they fulfill their true purpose, provide “hooks” to pull us into the very life of God.
Some of the stories in the Bible are shocking (especially to modern sensitivities). Many stories in the Bible are hard to understand, or at least it’s hard to be sure we get the point. The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus often spoke in parables –– stories –– so the general hearer would not easily get the point!
It’s not that God does not want us to understand. There is nothing God wants more than for us to hear his voice and to understand his ways. But there is a catch.... (remember, I said that the stories God gives us are meant to be a hook to pull us into his life). God loves us, and he wants us to love him. Part of the nature of love is discovery and the unfolding intimacy that comes from progressive disclosure. [A pertinent example from today’s culture is that it is a false intimacy when romance moves too quickly to sexual intimacy; people are physically intimate when they don’t even truly know each other, and the result is hurt and pain.]
Listening to God’s stories is meant to pull us into his life. And the more we truly listen, the more we will understand. Jesus told stories that delighted the people who had open hearts; those same stories often left the self-righteous and critics puzzled and angry. You see, God’s stories are not meant merely to entertain us; they are designed to win our hearts.
That is the point of Jeremiah’s story. God had him take an intimate garment and abuse it so that it was ruined. The truth is simple: God wants to be intimate with us, but if we do not listen –– and if we do not honor what is given to encourage us –– then we’ll be left with nothing but our vulnerability and the pain of what was lost.
When we hear God’s stories, let’s have open and obedient hearts. Then, the more we hear, the more we will understand.