Storytelling on Lake Tiberius
Background: It is mid-morning on the shore of Lake Galilee. Peter and some of the other disciples have been out fishing. Mark is sitting in one of the spare boats with Jesus, whom he is interviewing.
Mark: Jesus, would you sit a little more to the center of the boat so the scribe I am using can get set up on the stern. Now, let’s start with one of your short stories—how about that one you told the other day about the woman losing a coin and looking for it.
Jesus: Alright, here is how I usually start it: “Suppose a woman had 10 coins and lost one…”
Mark: Hold it there for a moment Jesus. Could you use hand motions a bit more when you say ‘ten’, as if your hands are full of coins? Let’s start again.
Jesus: There was once a woman who had 10 coins…
Mark: Wait, that’s not the way you started the story last time. You said ‘suppose’, which is hypothetical and conditional. The way you start it now it sounds like a woman like that actually lived and lost 10 coins. If you start it like that, I need back ground: What is her name and where was she from? What denomination were the coins and was Caesar’s picture on them? That kind of stuff. But it would take forever, so you have to be generic and vague.
Jesus: I don’t always tell each of my stories the same way every time. I haven’t memorized them—I look at my audience and try to anticipate their needs and then tell the story for them.
Mark: I understand and appreciate that, but this production isn’t for Caesar’s palace. We need to keep it simple—the people we are doing this for are fishermen and peasants. And why does it have to be ten coins? Can’t she just have one and lose it. That would be more dramatic.
Jesus: It would be better if we had an audience. Look there is a crowd over there. Why not row the boat over there and have them listen as I tell the story?
Mark: It could be a waste of time. I think we need a different story. Let’s skip the coin one and go directly to the fish and bread story. Everyone has heard about it—a story that will sell. But it is getting late so I’ll tell Peter to get a crowd assembled in the morning. In the meantime we will work on the story until we get it right. Now Jesus, would you count from one to ten in Aramaic, slowly please.
Jesus: What for?
Mark: I need to collect a little extra data to document the way you speak the language. Ready Scriptus? Then we will work on some pronouns.
It is the next day and Peter has assembled a large crowd, many of whom were present when Jesus fed the 5000 men.
Mark: I’ve got them seated in groups of 50 and 100, just like before, and Philip has made sure that there is a boy with 5 loaves and 3 fish in the crowd.
Mark to the crowd (sitting in the boat and using a conch shell for volume): I know you must wonder why you have been asked to this meeting and I can see that a lot of you are taking no chances and have brought your own lunches. I guess you don’t believe that Jesus can do it again.
Mark to Jesus (more in a whisper): Remember, this is just a story that we are doing for practice. It doesn’t matter if they brought their lunches.
Jesus to Mark: The scribe can write it down, but when it is read later it will lose some of the effect.
Mark: That doesn’t matter, with the disciples hearing it, I’m sure that between us we can get multiple versions for people to read. But you don’t need to go on talking until it is really late this time. Just give us the main points that you teach about the Kingdom and we will fill in the rest.
A question: What if we did not have the stories that Jesus told and instead had facts about his lineage, family, where he was born, something about his family and lineage, the dialect he spoke, and so on? We still would not know what Jesus was like as a person.
It is only when he tells his stories that we see compassion, passion, anger, bewilderment, drive, purpose, anxiety, tiredness, and much more, all demonstrating his humanity. And it is only when we delve into the stories that we see power, holiness, mysteriousness, submission, suffering, and much more, all demonstrating his unique position as God in the trinity.
The stories we her and read preserve the evidence of Jesus as a person, with a language and culture. They are more than an archive, they are a living trust, irrevocable and true.
Now back to our story.
It is early the next day and the sun is rising along the Lake. Peter, James and John have already fished all night. Jesus is cooking fist on the shore and Mark is positioning the boat in anticipation for the crown. He walks up to Jesus.
Mark: Say, man, thanks for all that data yesterday. A couple of the Pharisees and Scribes had a look at it. They pinpointed your dialect right away, knowing that you were country, from Nazareth. They could tell from your pronunciation of Aramaic. Glad your Greek is more representative of the world at large because someday you may be quoted in a book. Anyway, let’s get on with the recording. Ready Scriptus?
Jesus: So what story did we decide on for today?
Mark: I’ve prayed about it and I think we should go ahead with the fish and bread story. Let’s work through a few of the details first. This is an ideal place for it.
Jesus: It happened on the other side of the Lake.
Mark East side, west side, what is the difference. How many men? 5000 or 4000? Who counted them anyway?
Jesus: The important point is that I fed them all and I only had 5 loaves and 3 fish to begin with.
Mark: OK, but we do need to include that bit about the little boy, how Phillip found him and took his lunch away from him. We can build that up a bit and add some suspense.
Jesus: I want people who hear the story to know that I can do anything, even with very little.
Mark: Sure, but we need to hold off on that point. Now let’s go over the part about the 12 baskets of leftovers—it shows that the disciples were concerned about the environment.
The scene closes with Mark asking Jesus to build up the part about the isolation of the place, how Judas was willing to go and buy food for everyone if he could get some donkeys for transport, and a few other peripheral things that Jesus didn’t include but that theologians found evidence for years later.
Karl Franklin, 2007