I am slowly making my way through Frederick Buechner’s book Secrets In the Dark. It is a collection of sermons that he wrote and gave over a span of several years. I am reading them slowly because he has a way of presenting timeless information in a way that really makes me think. His words are not meant to be consumed quickly. They require a slow process of sitting with them and allowing the words to really settle on your heart.
In his sermon, The Truth About Stories, he makes the following statement:
“It’s too bad we know Jesus’s stories so well, or think we do. We have read them so often and heard expounded in so many sermons that we have all but lost the capacity for hearing them even, let alone for hearing what they are really about…The worst of it, of course, is the way we think we know what Jesus’s stories mean” (Secrets in The Dark, pp. 133)
He goes on to talk about the fact that we have heard the stories of Jesus so often that we fail to see anything new in them other than what we already “know”. We’ve figured out the point of the story long ago so we hardly hear them anymore. But Buechner challenges this idea of getting the point. What if, he says, the point of the story is the story itself? And maybe, just maybe, the stories of Jesus tell are our stories and are meant to help us figure out our part in The Story. Buechner proposes that at some point in all of our lives, we have played a character in all the stories Jesus tells because He is who is Truth, is revealing the truth about us as He tells His stories.
The implications of that hit me as I considered the story of the Good Samaritan. I have heard that story hundreds of times. I’ve seen myself as both the priest and the Levite who look the other way. And I have tried to be the Good Samaritan who helps the one who is different from me because that is what I’m supposed to do as a good Christian. In all the times I have heard that story, I’ve never considered that I might be the one hurt and wounded on the side of the road. But what if I am? What if I am the one who has been mugged, beaten and left for dead? And what if love comes along in the form of someone who is different than me? What if love shows up in an unexpected way, with an unexpected face and what if that love heals things in me I didn’t even know were broken? How do I respond to love when it doesn’t show up the way I think it “should”? And what things begin to shift inside me when I consider those questions?
I think of the story of the Prodigal Son and I see the same thing unfold. I’ve been the prodigal son who strayed away from love only to end up broken and defeated. I’ve also been the son who stayed home and resented the father’s response when the other one came back. But I’ve never been the father, looking out for my son, wanting him to come home, longing for him to find his way, trusting that God would bring him home to me. I’ve never seen myself in that character but I’ve been the father too. I’ve lost someone or something important to me. I’ve had a dream die much like the father’s dream, of having both his sons with him into old age, died the day his son left home. I too have looked longingly down the road, hoping and praying that some way, some how God would cause my dream to come true. In some areas I’m still waiting, still looking, still trusting. And maybe, just maybe, this old familiar story can renew my hope as I allow myself to see it with new eyes. What shifts inside me when I consider this new perspective?
Buechner’s words have opened scripture to me in a new way. May I never again approach the Bible stories as if I already “get it”. May I instead read them with wonder and curiosity, eager to find out more of how His stories help tell my story. I suspect I’ll be surprised at what I find.
What about you? Have you learned to see yourself in all the characters in Bible stories? What new things do the familiar stories reveal to you?