This is a short story (or more properly, I suppose, a parable) I originally devised from a sermon I gave at Cambourne Church titled ‘Jesus the Master Storyteller’. The version presented here is cleaned up and more page-readable from the one I told then which I did in much more of a ‘storytelling’, off-the-cuff style. Nevertheless, I think it reads quite well and gets across the points I was trying to make.
The reading for the day, incidentally, was Mark 4:21–33 which explains why the parables the storyteller tells in the story are what they are.
Once upon a time, there was a land of darkness. A land without a king.
It had not always been that way. Many years before, there had been a king: a king who ruled with righteousness and grace. But the people of that land looked to the countries around them and they became dissatisfied.
For, when they looked to the north, they saw a king who was harsh in his judgements and they said, “Now, there is a king who hands down justice.”
When they looked to the south, they saw a king who gave hard punishments and they said, “Now, there is a king who shows his strength.”
When they looked to the east, they saw a king who built a great army – such that no one could stand against it – and they said, “Now, there is a king who brings peace.”
And when they looked to the west, they saw a king who taxed the inhabitants of that land so deeply that they could scarcely put food in their children's mouths and they said, “Now, there is a king who truly understands the value of gold.”
So they deposed their own king and gave themselves to the kings who ruled in the countries to the north and to the south, to the east and to the west. And the sun set. And it would not rise again.
For many years, the land continued in darkness and the people began to despair.
But in their despair, they found a hope: that one day someone would come who would bring light again to their land and who would be their king.
So time passed and the darkness remained. And the hope remained. And one day, a man did come. A storyteller.
The man travelled up and down the land, and he told stories to all he met. And wherever he went, people came from far and wide to hear the stories he told.
He told them stories of a kingdom of light: a better kingdom than the one in which the people now lived.
But he never told the same story twice.
When he spoke to farmers, he told them a story about the scattering of grain. For he knew that the farmers understood the scattering of grain.
When he spoke to fishermen, he told them a story about setting out onto the lake, making a catch of fish and bringing it safely home. For he knew that the fishermen understood the catch of fish.
When he spoke to widows, and the poor and all who were downtrodden, he told a story about a place where they would know love and grace and kindness and justice and compassion. For he knew that this was everything that their hearts yearned to hear.
And so he travelled the length and breadth of the country telling his stories of truth and light to all he met.
I, too, heard the stories.
But I did not hear them from his own mouth. I only knew his stories from those who had heard them and written them down. Or else, I heard them told by those who had read those same accounts.
I heard them, and I read them. But, try as I might, I did not understand them for he had not told those stories to me. I read the stories he told to the farmers, but I knew nothing of the grain. I read the stories he told to the fishermen, but I knew nothing of the catch of fish. I heard the stories he told to the widows and the poor and the downtrodden, but I conceited myself that I was not a widow, nor was I poor, nor was I downtrodden and so I did not understand the stories I read.
As I struggled in vain to find the meaning in these stories, it was as though I clung to them so tightly that the juice of them ran away and all that was left in my hands was the empty bitterness of the pith. And so, in my confusion, I went for a walk down by the seashore.
Now, there was in that land a great inland lake, which was so vast that the people of that land called it a sea. In days long past, the waters of the sea had glinted like diamonds in the light of the bright sun. But now, in the eternal twilight into which the land had been cast, the waters were dull and grey and the sand on the shore was cold. Nevertheless, I took off my shoes so that I might feel the soft, cool sand beneath my feet and as I walked – there beside the dull, grey sea – I heard a voice, speaking. And I looked up and I saw the storyteller.
So I went to him, and said, “Master, I don’t understand. I’ve heard your stories, but I can make no sense of them because you have not told your stories to me. And the more I try to see the meaning of your stories the more confused I become.”
And this is the story he told to me.
“Suppose you plant a seed in the ground. As you go about your daily life, you will not see that seed growing because it is underground. But whether that seed grows or whether it dies and decays into the earth has nothing to do with you. For the growth of that seed belongs to God. But then, one day, you return to the place where you planted the seed and it has grown into a great tree with branches which stretch towards heaven and are rich with fruit.”
So I went away, and I planted his story in my heart. And where once I had squeezed the stories for meaning, I now held them lightly. And where once I had heard nothing but obscure details and baffling experiences removed from my own, I now learned to hear the song of the storyteller’s heart. And where once I had heard stories of farmers and grain; of fishermen and fish; of widows and the poor and the downtrodden; I now heard stories which taught me how to plant truth and gather hope; how to travel far and bring people home; how to be poor in spirit, and become rich in love and grace and kindness and justice and compassion. Thus, did the stories grow in my heart.
One day, I went into town and it was busier than normal, for it was market day. And as I walked the busy streets, I heard a commotion, so I went to see what was going on. And there I saw the storyteller again. But he looked so different.
For, the people of the town had not liked the stories which the storyteller told. Perhaps they had not understood them, or perhaps they had understood them all too well and had not liked what he had to say. But whatever the reason, they had sought him out and they had arrested him. They had stripped him to the waist, and they had beaten him. They had flayed the skin from his back and forced a crown of thorns upon his head.
I was standing beside the road as they paraded him through the town and just as he passed the place where I stood, he stumbled and fell to the ground. And I held out my hand and helped him to his feet and as he stood bleeding before me, I saw that he was going to die.
I said to him, “Master, what will happen to the stories if you die. Because you are the storyteller and if you die then the stories will die with you.”
And this is the story he told to me then.
“Suppose you are in a dark house. The people who live in that house will blunder around and they will trip over the furniture. They will injure their feet on the things which are left on the floor. Now suppose you have been given a light. Will you hide that light under a bed or a bowl? No! You will put it somewhere high up in the house so that everyone can see the light and can see the house and can see where they are going. And so the light that is given to you, is of benefit to all.”
And as he finished telling this story to me, one of the guards took his stick and beat the storyteller around the mouth to silence him. Then they took him outside the city, and they nailed him to a cross. And as the storyteller died, the sun rose.
So it was that light returned to the land.
I went away, and once again I planted the story he had told me in my heart. And I saw that in this last story he was trying to teach me to tell stories of my own. To take the stories which he told and to make them anew. To not get lost in details which mean nothing to me, but to tell stories of love and grace and kindness and justice and compassion; to show love and grace and kindness and justice and compassion; to lead others into being more loving and gracious and kind and just and compassionate in turn. Thus would the light of the storyteller shine brightly in the darkness.
And while I sought a way to do this, I went again to the place where I like to go to think: to the shore of that great inland sea where I had met him first. And now that the sun had risen, the sand was warm beneath my feet and the waters of the sea glinted like diamonds and far away, near the horizon, I saw the fishermen bringing in their catch of fish.
As I walked along the beach where I had seen him once before, I looked up and I saw him once again. Risen to life. And he was beautiful. And it was wonderful.
I fell at his feet, and this is the story he told to me then.
“All power on heaven and earth has been given to me. So, now, take the stories which I gave to you and take them out into all the world. Tell my stories and make them new so that all may hear and understand. And teach those you meet to tell their own stories so that this kingdom of light which began like a tiny mustard seed may be planted in the ground and begin to grow. As it grows, its roots shall penetrate deep into the ground to gain sustenance and strength so that it shall never be shaken. As it grows, it will send branches high into the air to reach the highest heaven and far across the earth to reach into the lands which lie to the north and to the south, to the east and to the west. The birds will come to it and make their nests, the animals will come to find shade and rest, and all creation will see and know that this is the place where they might find shelter.”
Then I looked up and I saw him no more. But the stories remained.
So I went and I told his stories.
And as I told his stories to others, those people learned them and planted them in their hearts, where the stories grew. And so those people went and told more stories to more people and so the great story of the kingdom of light grew and grew.
Together, we told the stories he told: of the grain and the fish and of hope for the hopeless. We told the story of the kingless land of darkness and of how it became a kingdom of light. We told the story of the storyteller who lived to die and died to live again.
And everywhere we told the stories, we proclaimed the good news to the poor, bound every broken heart, saw captives freed, and brought comfort to those who mourned. We clothed the naked, healed the sick, fed the hungry, and raised up the downtrodden. We spoke truth in the chambers and corridors of power and tore down strongholds of oppression and injustice.
And all these things became new stories, and we told these stories as well. Because all our lives became stories witnessing the kingdom of light. Thus, the stories of the storyteller and the story of all he did, and the story of those who came after – who believed and told the stories for themselves – were bound together into the great story which God has sung to the universe since time began.
For light came into the darkness and the darkness could not overcome it.
And so the story went on and on and on and on. Until the end of time.