A retold bible passage has the power to bring the living Word to life, if we can match ancient pictures with those that resonate with the images of the digital age. The well told story packs all the punch of the original and plants a seed in the memory of the reader. To do this we must play Parable Snap.
Let’s take the story of the prodigal son as an example; the first step would be to read the passage, but not just once. It should be savoured like a banquet in three or more courses, using several translations (preferably a paraphrase for freshness-- e.g. The Message, a dynamic equivalent-- e.g. NIV and a word for word version like the NKJV). Enjoy the exotic Middle Eastern flavours of this classic dish, how it is infused with the spice of drama, character and incident.
A list of the key events should be jotted down as we begin to analyse the composition of the story. We study the ingredients and ask: What is their significance? What do they represent? Theologians call this background research exegesis, which literally means ‘bringing out sense’, as we discover the original meaning of the story. We are trying to enter the kitchen where the dish was invented.
The concept of inheritance underpins the whole story. If we look up ‘inheritance’ in a bible dictionary it will reveal the cultural and spiritual significance of the customs in ancient Israel, how they are bound up with God’s covenant. We see that the young son despised both custom and the LORD.
A commentary or two are useful, but should only be used for confirming our own research or to help where our own knowledge fails. Systematic study helps us to create links and understand our passage in relation to the whole bible.
We also need to examine the preparation method; how the story works, its literary form and what parts the characters play.
The prodigal son starts as a tragedy plot. The good-turned-bad son (a dark figure) is called by the lure of reckless living, he commits a dark deed by betraying his inheritance and Father (a light, divine character) then we watch as the inevitable consequences unfold until he is reduced to hungering after pig swill. At this point the Saviour twists the story into what Christopher Booker describes as a Rebirth plot. The young son is repentant and moves towards the light whilst the dutiful older son is revealed to be a dark figure opposed to the actions of the Father.
Having done our research, we should imagine sitting at the table with the audience at the first telling and eavesdrop on the conversation that reveals their feelings and reactions to the narrative.
We listen for the gasps of astonishment as the young son shatters the covenant laws and custom, the murmured approval as he gets his just deserts, the intake of breath as the Father humiliates himself and we see how the older brother voices the dismay of those who don’t understand why the younger is let off.
Our meal becomes the energy that drives our retelling. Now we must cry, sweat and bleed the story onto the page and create our own recipe using the image ingredients that we have available to us which provoke the same feelings in our audience as those of the first.
A teenager leaving home is not strong enough, it happens all the time. He must storm out in a blazing row, crippling the family business. Partying and fornication is socially acceptable, so we have to reach for a stronger image such as the spiral into drug addiction. We follow the logic of the new setting, the foreign country becomes a drugs den, the pig owner a pimp and, (we could change the sex of the prodigal for greater impact), the child falls victim to prostitution. If we make the Father the millionaire owner of a chain of burger bars, then his offspring could long to return as a burger flipper. He could meet them half way by volunteering at a rehab clinic. He would hold a press conference to announce the return of his child, which the older son sees and phones to complain whilst working late in his franchise.
Our composition should be perfectly aligned with the original once we have finished. Then, possibly, in conjunction with the life circumstances of our reader, there could be the snap of a seed imbedded in someone’s memory germinating.
The Parable of the Prodigal/ Lost Son: Luke 15:11-31
The Art of Story Telling, Easy Steps to Presenting an Unforgettable Story. John Walsh, Moody Publications, (Chicago 2003)
How to Read the Bible for all it’s Worth. Fee & Stuart, Zondervan (2003)
The New Bible Dictionary, Third Edition Carson et al, IVP (Leicester, 1996)
The New Bible Commentary, Third Edition, Marshall et al, IVP (Leicester, 1996)
The Oxford Bible Commentary, Ed, Barton & Muddiman, Oxford University Press (Oxford 2001).
The Seven Basic Plots, Why We Tell Stories, Christopher Booker, Continuum (London & New York 2004)
Search The Scriptures. The Study Guide to the Bible. Alan M Stibbs (Ed) IVP (Leicester 2003)- Latest Edition
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