The Living Parables of Jesus: Jesus’ non-verbal teaching in Matthew 21

If you want to write a good story, one of the golden rules is “Show, don’t tell.”

“Show, don’t tell” means that you don’t tell your read a situation is scary. Instead, you help the reader enter into the terror by describing it. “The darkness descended at night and an eerie stillness surrounded the trailer park. As he walked toward his destination, a prickly feeling crept up his neck that something bad was about to happen.” You don’t tell the reader everyone was joyful at the party. No, instead you open the joy to them. “As she entered the room and everyone shouted, ‘Happy birthday!’ she felt as if her heart would burst. All those people she loved finally in one room. She could hardly believe it was real.”

When good writers “show” instead of “telling” they create doorways by which the reader can enter the experience of the story. They create “ways in” by which the reader can live inside the world the writer has created. 

“Show, don’t tell” becomes a doorway into a new reality.

Jesus does that too. When Jesus enters Jerusalem at Passover, He steps away from verbal teaching and into enacted teaching. He dramatically serves up lived parables to create doorways for His hearers to enter a new reality they can live within. Jesus invited them, and us, to respond to Him through His showing, not telling.

With Jerusalem swelling from its normal 30,000 inhabitants to nearly 180,000 during Passover, Jesus rides a donkey from the Mount of Olives into the city. His actions call to mind the words of the prophet Zechariah as He takes this route in this way into the city. As Jesus draws near to the Temple precincts, He enters the court and turns over the tables of the money changes and the benches of those selling doves. Jesus conjures up in His viewers’ imagination the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees in 164 BC after the desecration of it by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. There is a new cleansing and rededication needed. Shortly thereafter, Jesus curses a dense but fruitless fig tree while walking from Bethany to Jerusalem. More than just Jesus being “hangry,” He is pointing out the apparent life within the established religion, but the lack of fruit that is there.

In Jerusalem, right there in the Temple, Jesus is displaying that not only is He a prophet but, even more, He is the Messiah. His surprising actions – turning over the tables, casting out the cursing the fig tree – all serve as doorways – “ways in” – to the reality that He has come to bring the fullness of God’s kingdom to earth. He shows, not just tells, that there is something new happening in Him.

[This is an excerpt of my message, “The Withering of the Old Ways.”]

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