Reading in the Gospel of Matthew these days. This time around I’m reading it in the Contemporary English Version just to change things up. Ya know Jesus talked to the people in stories (the old King James calls them parables) using familiar things to them: farms, harvests, weeds, bread, yeast, animals, etc. And sometimes the disciples asked, “Why do you use nothing but stories when you speak to the people?” (13:10)
I’m thinking people simply like stories. They’re satisfying on many levels. We’re all familiar with Jesus’ story about the seeds and the sower, right? (If you’re not, it’s in Matthew 13:3-8) A farmer broadcasts seeds. It lands on all kinds of ground: thin rocky soil, weedy soil, good soil. Birds eat some seed before it sprouts.
And the disciples are like, yeah, but what does it mean? They didn’t want to have to figure it out. They wanted their life lessons to come spoon-fed. They wanted Jesus to flat-out say: “My word is spoken to all of you and some of you aren’t ready to hear it. You just don’t understand, or you’re too distracted by other worries in your life. However, some of you are ready to hear and apply my words to your life.”
So why didn’t he?
‘Cause word pictures stay in our minds longer than mere words. We turn them over, think about them. Sometimes we instinctively know there’s more to them, just under the surface, and we try to align the pictures with what we believe to be true. And sometimes we just say, “Cool story,” and carry on with our lives, never giving it another thought.
I’m thinking the disciples were after non-fiction. They wanted points A, B, and C. Check. Yup, I’m doing that. Next?
But Jesus wanted to get under people’s skin and make them actually think. Here’s the part that really applies to writers: He SHOWED the principles he wanted folks to learn. He didn’t just TELL them a list. He painted a word picture and said, “It’s all in there if you think about it.”
And think we do. When we come across a really good story, it sticks with us. We find ourselves mulling over the characters and their choices and the circumstances. We wonder if we’d react that way. We’re learning from the story as we do that. Of course, sometimes we just go, “Cool story,” and walk away to forget it all.
As writers, it’s called ‘theme’. What is our story about on a deep, intrinsic level? If there’s no theme, there’s little sticking power. If the theme is TOLD to the readers, they either accept it or reject it and carry on their way. But if the theme is demonstrated and shown–but isn’t blatant and in-your-face–it works away under the surface as the reader contemplates the story. They still have the opportunity to agree or disagree, but they won’t feel pushed.
That’s it. That’s the sermon for today! 😛