Great leaders are also great storytellers. They have the ability to use the power and the skills of storytelling to inspire and motivate people – whether it is in a family setting, a company, an organisation, or in their community. My mind goes back to my salad days when I was in secondary school in Colombo, in what was known as Ceylon, (now Sri Lanka). We had this charismatic Art teacher – he had a gifting for great story telling, quite apart from teaching us art. He would stride into the classroom, perch himself on the teacher’s desk and he would start his stories – many of them from history and folk tales – we were spellbound. He had our undivided attention. As students we were so eager, waiting in anticipation of his yarns. “Tell us a story Sir!” we would cry out as we engaged in art and creativity. Art is a form of storytelling – it seemed to go well with each other, in the context of the classroom. It was stretching our imagination. It is the hallmark of a gifted and inspirational teacher that you remember their stories and discussions, decades after you have left school.
The New York Times observed: “Storytelling is one of the oldest devices of communicating. Its hand-me-down perpetuation suffered somewhat during the age of writing (which allowed you to look it up if you forgot it) and has been more severely threatened with the advent of the electronic era, which relieves you of the effort of transmitting anything to newer generations.”
Jesus was a master storyteller. He was an effective, compassionate, leader, an expert in the art of communication. He crafted engaging stories – breaking down what could have been complex theology into bite size gems that made people understand the meaning behind the story. Companies in today’s corporate world also use storytelling. Nike’s senior executives are also designated corporate storytellers – using storytelling to their advantage. Their advertisements feature such stories to engage the audience – with a powerful message behind it.
Jesus used parables to teach important lessons – they say a parable is a succinct, didactic story, in prose or verse that illustrates one or more instructive lessons or principles. It differs from a fable in that fables employ animals, plants, inanimate objects, or forces of nature as characters, whereas parables have human characters. A parable is a type of analogy. The word ‘parable’ means a placing side by side for the sake of comparison. It was used by Jesus to convey spiritual truth. His parables always had a clear cut spiritual message.
I can just imagine Jesus walking on a beach or striding into the very heart of the community, sitting on a chair or a rock or by the village well, stretching out his hands and saying: ‘I want to tell you a story.’ Crowds came to listen to him. He explained the stories in a way that people understood them.
Jesus wanted to teach people about love, mercy and compassion. He chose the main character in the parable of the Good Samaritan as someone of another race and culture who was detested by the Jewish community. They sometimes threw stones at these people. The Samaritans lived in Northern Israel. Samaria was located between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south. They were racially mixed, however they were despised by the Jews who did not see them as part of mainstream Judaism. The Samaritans only accepted the first 5 books of the Bible as canonical and they did not go to the temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem but went to the temple on Mount Gerazim. Jewish people did not want to contaminate themselves, so they did not travel through Samaria if they wanted to get to Galilee from Judea – they took an even longer route, crossing the river Jordan, totally by passing Samaria. On the other side of the coin the Samaritans destested the Jews. The feelings were mutual.
Jesus just broke through the racism, the hate, anger, bitterness, jealousy and all the barriers placed before him. He actually passed through Samaria instead of avoiding all contact with Samaritans. He spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well – something unheard of in his day. When Jesus was asked ‘who is my neighbour,’ he shared with the crowds one of the most compassionate stories ever told.
The principle character of the parable was a Samaritan. Jesus wanted to show a new and living way, of loving your neighbour as yourself. Your neighbour might be of another race, colour or creed. Jesus preached equality under God. Samaritans and Jews were absolutely equal in His sight. They were not second class citizens. All are precious in His sight.
So here is the parable from Luke Chapter 10: verses 25-37:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’a]”>[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’b]”>[b]”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbour?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
This was compassion in action. The content and the message behind the ‘Parable of the Good Samaritan,’ is as relevant today, within the context of today’s society, as it was back then, in the time of Jesus.
Our son who is on the autism spectrum, still loves to watch the superb cartoon from ‘Miracle Maker,’ the film released in the year 2000.’ Quite often he would watch it several times in a month – he just loves this film – seen through the eyes of Tamar, the terminally ill daughter of Jairus, a priest in Capernaum.
Here is a modern version of the parable:
Here are 7 lessons we can learn from the compassionate Good Samaritan:
- Compassion comes from the heart. It’s not something that is an abstract idea. It is an action that comes from within your heart.
- Do not pass by on the other side – when you see a need, try to respond with your heart. I remember the time our son had a meltdown in the cinema because the place was absolutely full and the seat that he normally sits on had been taken. He was distraught. There was a kind lady who came up to my wife and I and asked us: “Is there anything I can do to help?” She did not walk by on the other side. It turned out that she knew exactly what we were going through because she was working with children with autism. We were so grateful for that act of kindness.
- Compassion is a specific action. Let your heart be right. Reach out to those who are in real need.
- Be a neighbour. In this parable, the Samaritan was the neighbour. He loved his neighbour as himself.
- Compassion is what you see. When the Samaritan came across the Jewish person mugged and left for dead he saw and he acted.
- Stop and think – does this person need help? I am as guilty as anyone else when I have seen homeless people and looked straight ahead and carried on regardless.
- Do. Compassion is something that you do and how you do it. The Good Samaritan not only saw the man lying there on the road, he was galvanised into action. He took a risk to stop and help this man.
Jesus always acted with compassion, with loving kindness – he told the expert in the law ‘go and do likewise.’ The teaching here is very clear – we should be showing compassion to others.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is from the New International Version.
The cartoon is courtesy of the Miracle Maker film and the modern version of the parable is courtesy of modernparable.com
The pictures are courtesy of http://www.freebibleimages.org/illustrations/good-samaritan/ and Pixabay.
Excerpt, courtesy of The New York Times article on ‘Storytelling as an art form,’ (3rd February 1988).