I love storytelling. Not that I’m a particularly accomplished storyteller. I’ve met people who can turn ordinary, daily activities into riveting tales of anguish, joy, hope, and victory. They can take a two-minute story and captivate their audience for fifteen minutes. That gift of storytelling intrigues me. I’m attracted to stories and how they are told. Thus, I take them in however I find them. Whether they are stories told with friends over a meal, on the pages of a book, from episode to episode on a TV show, through the playing of a game, or watching a movie (and yes even some musicals and plays), I love the side of our humanity that tells stories. In many ways, I think it models God, who I fervently believe is a master storyteller, but today’s readings remind me that the Lord is so much more than that.
The greatest temptation I face when seeing God as a Divine storyteller outstripping Tolkien, Patterson, Austen, or Homer is that I can make my faith the discovery of things that are neat. It is the neat, the novel, the ingenuous, and the inventive that sets great storytellers apart from the rest. It might be a neat way of letting a moviegoer know what the main character is thinking by giving him a voice recorder into which he speaks. It could be the inventive depth of Tolkien’s world (and its various languages). The novel way the author foreshadows the climatic stand-off between good and evil. Or it could be an ingenious plot twist. These things are great and salvation history contains many of them because God is a master storyteller. We call the character’s inner dialogue consciousness and conscience. The invented world is the creation we inhabit. The study of God’s clever foreshadowing is called typology (the study of how Old Testament events and people prefigure what is to come in Christ and the Church). And the plot twist is the Resurrection.
However, the temptation is to let all this creative storytelling and cohesive design become like any other story we can critique and analyze. Instead of being scandalized by the idea of God becoming like one of us to save us from death and raise us to himself I’m tempted to think, “That’s neat.” That is when I need Gospel passages like today’s. I need the moments when Jesus reminds us that this is more than a fairy tale. That He is real and He is both Storyteller and Story. I need to be reminded that while a compelling read like Unbroken demands a reaction (maybe even a review), Jesus demands a response. Today’s gospel reminds me that Jesus isn’t just a neat and a tidy way to wrap up the story that started in a garden with a character named Adam. He has the words of Eternal Life because He is the Eternal Word.
The author Neil Gaiman (while paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton) once wrote, “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” The same can be said for the Gospel. Jesus’ words are spirit and life, not because they tell us the Dragon exists, but because they tell us the Dragon is beaten. Our foreshadowed climatic stand-off is the Cross and the Resurrection of the one who has the words of Eternal life.
Our God is a master storyteller, but his story is so much more than neat. It is life-giving.