If you haven’t seen Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar winning portrayal of Abraham Lincoln this season, I highly recommend it.
What I love about this film, as many critics have said, is its humanization of Lincoln. Not only do you see his vocational struggles to lead the country during a turbulent time of war, but you see his difficult marriage, his parenting successes and failures, his erratic sleep patterns, his depression and most of all his perseverance.
One of the most striking aspects of film, in my opinion, came every time Lincoln told a story. Lincoln defused tense or a fear-driven moment with a tale: a tale would usher into a room clarity and grace. Or sometimes just more frustration! I laughed aloud on several occasions when one of his colleagues complained, “Oh, not another one of your stories.” I could imagine this kind of complainant coming from me if I were there!
To his literal-minded critics, it seemed that Lincoln’s use of stories were somehow a diversion tactic or simply a waste of time.
But, if Lincoln’s bystanders listened closely they’d hear a nugget of wisdom for the challenges at hand. Stories, at least as this film portrayed, became a tool for abstract thinking, re-consideration of engrained opinions, and humor. All things difficult conversations needed to keep moving forward.
Most of all, Lincoln’s use of stories helped everyone get on the same page. Or at least start asking the right questions.
Thinking about how Lincoln’s stories became the balm to hold his family, critics and even the nation together– has helped me to see Jesus’ steps with greater clarity.
During Lent this year, I’ve been reading through a portion of Luke’s gospel every day. It’s been a long time, I have to say, since I’ve read a gospel straight through without any intention of preaching or teaching what I’m studying (what a refreshing change!).
Like Lincoln, Jesus used parables regularly to enlarge listeners’ worldview, to re-shape their vision of God, and to abolish religious practice out of touch the good news for all people.
The Parable of the Lost Son is one such story that I know my lectionary preaching friends are wresting with this week– one of those stories Jesus told that it is hard to preach out of such great familiarity!
But, like many who will hear sermons on this story this Sunday, Jesus’ audience also struggled. “Couldn’t you just get on with it?” many must have complained. For scripture tells us that these parables often fell on confused and frustrated ears. But this did not change Jesus’ approach. He kept telling stories anyway.
I don’t think Jesus’ teaching would be the rich feast we find it to be today without his stories. The parables give show us God’s vastness like nothing else could.
Yet, even with this true. I, like those first disciples and the crowd gathered around Jesus, often feel confused at Jesus’ parables, especially those in whom I’ve heard countless times before. It’s so easy to think the stories are simple (hey, I’ve got this) only to find that they’re completely more complex than I ever imagined them to be.
But, the stories draw me in every time. They mesmerize me in fact. I’m glad they are there– even if I would like to say to Jesus sometimes, “just skip the stories and make it plain.”
Thank goodness for the storytellers who keep sharing. Maybe one day we’ll all understand.