16 Oct 2011

Jesus the Great Storyteller

Religious 17 Comments

It recently struck me that among His other superlative traits, Jesus was a great storyteller. There was no reason it had to be so. Moses wasn’t a storyteller, nor were any of the other giants from the Old Testament (at least not that I can think of). Daniel would tell some amazing tales, to be sure, but those were prophesies about the future; he wasn’t using fiction as a pedagogical device.

Jesus didn’t just weave stories to illustrate His principles to the masses, but in several places it seems He conjures up a tale on the spot in order to defuse a conflict engineered by His enemies. The most famous example of this is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37), which I encourage you to go read because in the beginning, it’s clear that the motivation for the story is a lawyer trying to test Jesus. (In other words, it’s not that Jesus was working on a sermon for a bunch of His fans, and thought, “Oh, this will be a memorable story to get my point across about loving your neighbor.”)

The example I’ll quote in the present post is recorded in Luke 7: 36-50 when Jesus is a guest for dinner and something “liiiiitle bit awkward” occurs:

36 Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. 37 And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, 38 and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”
40 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”
So he said, “Teacher, say it.”
41 “There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”
43 Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”
And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” 44 Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. 45 You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. 46 You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. 47 Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”
48 Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 And those who sat at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”
50 Then He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

The above story is amazing in many respects. Reading accounts like that, of Jesus’ value system and the way He conducted Himself in such a situation, reassures me that I hitched my wagon to the right guy.

17 Responses to “Jesus the Great Storyteller”

  1. Austin says:

    Also, I think his claim to forgive the sins of the lady was also an implicit claim to be Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament, which is one of the reasons that the people at the table started to murmur about what he had done.

  2. Ancalagon says:

    I think the operative word in your post is ‘guy’ — you did, indeed, hitch your wagon to a guy.

    There are quite a few of us, Bob, who are still awaiting your long-promised tell-all as to what led you to repudiate atheism/agnosticism/humanism/whatever, and to embrace a specific variant of Christianity.

    I, for one, would love to see you watch and dissect a Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris video — tell us where, exactly they err in their reasoning and critique of religion. (Not that they are some paragons of intellect or virtue; but they are some of the most prominent public intellectuals arguing against religion, for better or worse.)

    I ask not out of malice (truly), but out of a serious desire to get into the head of an obviously intelligent, learned individual who nevertheless believes in something that strikes me as wholly illogical.

    • john says:

      Read some of CS Lewis’s writings for an intellectual defense of Christianity.

      I loved this post, Bob. It shows what a forgiver and lover of peace Jesus was. Good stuff.

  3. Yosef says:

    I had meant to ask this in your previous religion post on clearing up a contradiction, but things has moved on from there. Still, this somewhat concerns sin and value systems, so it seems appropriate.

    There are two questions:
    1. Is is possible to profit (ie be better off) from going against God (sin)?
    2. With that in mind, why is it that we are expected to do what Adam and Eve failed to do, namely obey God, when they failed despite having complete contact with God? No matter how much you believe in God, and I don’t doubt your belief, it is just that. Adam and Eve actually knew God, spoke with him, had clear proof of him. Yet they failed. Why are we expected to do better? Are we any better than they were? If we are, then the betterment must have come about as a result of their sin.

    • Bob Murphy says:


      (1) You think you are better off but you are mistaken. (“You” meaning the person who chooses to sin, not you Yosef.)

      (2) According to Christianity, we’re not able to do what Adam and Eve also failed to do. We have a “sin nature” because of the Fall. No, we are not better than they were (and I think some Christians believe there is an important sense in which Adam and Eve were better, meaning they actually had the possibility of choosing to not sin, whereas by our nature we are born into bondage). We don’t earn our salvation, God gives it to us as a free gift.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        1. Why am I being blamed for what people did 6000 years ago? Sounds like guilt by association.

        2. If we are all descendants of Adam and Eve, then how did the genetic line of humans continue after Adam and Eve’s only offspring, Cain and Abel, who were two males who could not have given birth? Shouldn’t the human race have gone extinct after Cain and Abel died?

        • Brian Shelley says:

          1. You are not guilty because of your inherited nature. You are guilty because you reject the remedy.

          2. Genesis 5:3-4
          3 When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth. 4 After Seth was born, Adam lived 800 years and had other sons and daughters.

          • knoxharrington says:

            Thank goodness – a reasonable explanation.

          • knoxharrington says:

            Really? Adam lived to, minimally, 930 years of age? How can anyone read this and take it seriously? Methusaleh living to nearly 1,000 years of age?

            If you believe this then it answers Ancalagon’s query above and reaffirms that P.T. Barnum was aiming low when he said there was a sucker born every minute.

          • Bob Murphy says:

            Brian wrote:

            1. You are not guilty because of your inherited nature. You are guilty because you reject the remedy.

            Well, yes and no Brian, right? (At least according to orthodox Christianity.) The reason you need a remedy in the first place, is that you are guilty, and I think most Christian theologians would you say you are guilty because of Adam and Eve’s original sin.

            • Brian Shelley says:

              Hmmm…I think we all have a sinful bent because of the Fall, but I don’t think we are guilty because of our bent. We are guilty because of what we do. Am I spilttlng hairs? If “loving the Lord your God…” is the most important commandment, then everything seems to flow from not loving the Lord.

      • Yosef says:

        Surely you don’t mean that salvation is given as a “free gift”. Even if it is not conditional on good works, it is still conditional on faith? It’s not free if one has to accept Jesus to get it.

        Thank you for explaining that Christians don’t believe that we are expected to do what Adam and Eve failed

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Well, if you want to parse it like that, I guess you can. But it’s tantamount to saying, “God is offering you a free gift, but you can reject it.” (Note that here some hardcore Calvinists will object to my statement. I actually believe most of what they say, I just think God’s sovereignty is consistent with free will. In other words I think God knew from the beginning of the universe who would be saved, but I also believe it is our choice whether to accept Jesus.)

          • Yosef says:

            I don’t understand that equivalency. Suppose you have to guys. One says he will give anyone $1,000. The other says he will give anyone who tells him he’s awesome $1,000. (I know that faith is more than that, but hey I’m already devaluing my salvation to 1k).

            You would say that each is a gift that you can reject, which is true. But can you say that both are free gifts? One is strictly conditional, and therefore more restrictive. Since free is free, they can’t both be free.

            (As for Calivinists, if I had unconditionally elected to care about them, I would care)

  4. Kyle says:

    Bob, isn’t it interesting that her actions clarify and proclaim her faith, and so she is forgiven?

  5. David says:

    Hi Bob,

    Being the “Word” certainly qualifies Jesus to be a great storyteller and that’s the thing. Who can ignore a good story, and if it’s good, it instantly transports you away, even if you don’t really want to listen… if it’s interesting enough, and has a good enough opening hook, we’re done for.

    In this case the story is doubly powerful in that it directly relates to a real live woman and her actions in the midst of the folks gathered. The fact that she was touching Jesus at all was enough to raise eyebrows, especially among Pharisees. Bet you could have heard a pin drop… it sure would have been cool to have been there!



  6. Ancalagon says:


    Do you take Genesis literally or do you treat it as merely a parable? If the latter, why should we hold to the veracity of any other part of the Old Testament?

    Genesis cannot be squared with science, pure and simple, so let us assume you, like the intelligent individual we all know you are, take it to be simple parable. Fair enough.

    What of the whole of humanity who lived before Jesus? For perhaps a hundred-thousand years (or longer?), humans were born, lived and died with no knowledge of the Biblical God or of his son to come. What of their souls? Why did God wait so long to send his ‘son’ to inform a hilariously small corner of the Earth.

    Since he was in the mood to get the word out about his existing and such, why didn’t he just beam a message to everyone letting them know what the deal is?

    How is it ‘fair’ that certain individuals throughout history were in direct communion with God — thus abrogating the ‘challenge’ of having faith — and others are bereft of this convenient proof?

    Isn’t it interesting that for a couple of thousand years God was very active in human affairs, and yet for the last bit or so he’s taken a holiday?

    Even today many tens of millions of people are born, live, and die without ever having heard the ‘good news’. What is their eternal fate? What about the fate of others who heard the Word, but who rejected it because the conduit from whom they heard it saw fit to massacre, conquer, pillage, rape, steal, cheat, war, etc., and so render himself unworthy of the credibility upon which conversion often rests?

    Seriously, how can you think this crazy story makes any sort of logical sense. It fails Occam’s Razor so supremely, so sublimely.

    I entreat you to let me know where I err, where I have gone astray. Please.