“The word of God came to me” (Jer 1:1).
“I have seen the Lord” (John 20:18).
The post resurrection appearance stories in John’s Gospel are both beautiful and theological. Moving from the first recorded accounts in Mark, which originally ended with the women saying nothing after meeting an angel, to John’s detailed encounters between Mary and Jesus in the garden and Peter and Jesus by the Sea of Tiberias, we glimpse the developing faith of the community over a period of perhaps 40 years or more.
“There is something greater than Jonah here” (Matt 12:40).
The story of Jonah was a fantastic, popular story (think Pinocchio) with a powerful religious message. It was addressed to Jews confident of their exclusive status as God’s chosen people and eager to see their enemies punished. Jonah is a reluctant prophet sent to Nineveh (Assyria) to preach repentance. He does not want to go, does not want to make this offer to Israel's worst enemy, fearful they might accept it and be saved.
“Let them grow together until harvest” (Matt 13:30).
“The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath” (Matt 12:8).
“My yoke is easy, my burden light” (Matt 11:30).
Parables await me on my morning drive into work. The city is awake. Delivery trucks rumble past, cars, busses and bicycles deliver people to their respective jobs. Street crews take advantage of the morning cool, surrounded by orange cones and signs that slow and divert traffic. Dog walkers and joggers are out in the leafy neighborhoods, and in Midtown a man sits on the front steps of an apartment building smoking a cigarette.
“No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him” (Matt 11:27).
“Unless your faith is firm you shall not be firm” (Isa 7:9).
Early in his Gospel, Matthew (4:15) quotes Isaiah 9:1 describing the appearance of a great light for the gentiles in northern Galilee, people “who lived in darkness and in the shadow of death.” Jesus was that light appearing not just to the chosen people but also to gentiles and foreigners. Seven chapters later, in today’s Gospel (Matt11:20-24), Jesus reproaches the Jewish towns in that same region for not responding to the Good News he had announced.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth” (Matt 10:34).
Jesus made clear to his disciples that following him would mean placing all other loyalties in second place. This included family and tribal loyalty, no small demand in a culture in which that fealty was near absolute. To be with Jesus was to make a fresh start, stepping apart from father and mother, religious and legal obedience and even Jewish blood, to become a new creation, a new family defined by God’s gracious invitation open to everyone.
“My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11).
Good storytellers, in the ancient world and today, build anticipation with predictable patterns that set up an audience for the end of the story, either as confirmation of what they saw coming or as a surprise. The structure of the story is the key to its success as entertainment or instruction.