A Lesson in Story Time
By Kalyn Stralow
I LOVE the craft of storytelling, and delight in seeing it’s presence in the Bible. In the account of Jesus’ life on Earth, Matthew 10 is drawing us into the rising action that will carry us toward the epic climax of His story.
If you hated Literature in school (I see and respect you, math nerds and/or popular kids) or need a refresher on the basic premise of narrative structure, here’s a simple diagram drafted by Gustav Freytag in 1863:
Freytag proposed this “pyramid” to chart the structure of both Ancient Greek AND Shakespearean drama. So, both pre-Matthew and FAR after his life, the structural elements of storycraft remained relatively consistent across time and culture. Are there variations? Of course. Many. But even those variations are making a point in the way authors choose to break this mold. We almost intuitively recognize the rhythm of storytelling, and I find it to be this beautifully uniting thread that runs throughout human history.
Here in Chapter 10, we see the appointment of the 12 apostles, and the first charge by Jesus to go forth and carry His message to the people of Israel.
Even to a person today who was completely unfamiliar with the details of the gospel, this would feel familiar. The protagonist has gathered his people – the supporting cast of misfits that has chosen to throw in with him – and this is that pivotal moment before they head out on mission. It’s still relatively calm, but you can feel the rising tension. It’s every band of ragtag underdogs hearing a compelling speech from their leader. It’s the Fellowship of the Ring. It’s the Avengers. It’s Braveheart. It’s fill-in-the-blank with whichever epic story first came to your mind.
If you haven’t already, go read Chapter 10 now with this in mind and come back.
Does it give you chills to read? It’s time to act. Jesus empowers the 12 apostles by giving them literal authority to perform miracles and proclaim His message throughout the land. It’s the call to action to begin living out the principles that Jesus’ disciples have heard Him preach.
Here Jesus gives them their first plainly spoken preview of the hardships that lay before them, and even some foreshadowing of what is to come for Him. But He doesn’t just load the disciples up with harsh reality and send them on their way. No. He immediately quells their fears with words of affirmation for their task and confidence in the ultimate power of the One in whom they are placing their trust.
It’s easy to see why crowds followed Jesus around. It’s not just the miracles. He is magnetic in His authoritative words as well. He charges the apostles with their task with frankness and loving support and an ultimate purpose far greater than themselves.
In looking for their Messiah, many of the people of Israel missed Jesus because they were looking for a great warrior. He wasn’t what they were expecting, and yet I see echoes of that leader here in Matthew’s account. This is the scene where the beloved general prepares his troops for battle.
It sometimes makes people uncomfortable to talk about Scripture in terms of storytelling. I think they feel that if the account is called a “story,” or follows any conventions of literature, that this somehow undermines the truth of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.
I could not disagree more.
Stories feel familiar, and the elements of the great epic tales we love are an echo of God’s True story that He is writing in the world. Matthew 10 reminds me why today, across the millennia since Jesus uttered these words, I still choose to take up my cross and follow Him.