Growing up I loved a good mystery. I recall reading on Wednesday nights while my parents attended choir practice at church. Following the story lines were simple as I reflect on it today. I am left wondering if the writer intended something deeper than simply discovering "whodunnit."
Years later I learned preachers use stories to illustrate. I too learned to look for stories which served the purpose of propping up a "truth" or "point" to be made. Sometimes the connection jumped out quickly. Other times it almost seemed forced. As years have passed I grew to wonder just how we strip stories of their own intended "truth" or "point." A maxim I learned and followed, "Didactic passages help us interpret narrative passages." Stories in the Scriptures needed a connection with a truth in order for meaning to be realized. At least I thought.
What happens when it is discovered the story finds its location in a a larger narrative and at the same time teaches in its own right? I read the Lectionary passage in Acts for last Sunday. Many times I had read quickly of the story of Lydia coming to trust Jesus; the message the missionaries sat and shared by the river. Was this just one more story illustrating Luke’s description of the spread of Christianity? There is little doubt the story tells us how the church at Philippi came to be. But was the story "just" about the results of the missionaries response to a vision to help in Macedonia. Could it be the details of the story not only connect it with the larger narrative of the spread of the Good News but also illustrate just how the Gospel subverted cultural sensibilities? Could it be the way the story is relayed helps us understand precisely how the Gospel came to be Good News for the women by the river?
Everything about the story fights against the norm. Everything about the story fails to neatly fit a one size fits all telling of the Good News. A Jewish man leads a group of men to sit with Roman women by a river. Not just any women but women spiritually seeking. Not just spiritually seeking but seeking by water that may well have been the place they thought held some spiritual significance. Not just any women but relatively wealthy women. A woman trusted the Good News because everything they were searching for she found in the story of Jesus. She was so convinced she pressed her family to see the same news as Good News. In a man’s world we get a subversive story of women.
I now look at the stories for what they subvert in their own right not simply how they fill out a place in the larger narrative. The hard part comes when we must wrestle with just what is subverted and how it may undermine our own sensibilities.