"His disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said," (John 2:22b). These are golden words for any teacher to hear later from his students. That is, they "remembered' what He had said.

I think everyone would agree that not only should God's Truth be taught but that it be taught by giving it one's best effort. This includes our speaking so that we are heard. Brother Jim Huggins used to quote a teacher at Freed Hardeman as urging, "If you have something to say, say it so that it can be heard; otherwise, keep silent." Not only should Truth be heard, it must be understood. There are three important principles that Jesus wanted His audience to do: first, to "hear" (Matthew 11:15); second, to "understand" (Mark 7:14); and third, to "remember' (John 16:4; Luke 24:6-8; John 2:21-22). Truth should be taught so that those that have ears, can hear, can understand, and can remember after their departing. Memory is what I want to discuss.

I have had preachers complain that they'd preached a couple lessons on an issue and within a short period everyone acted as if they'd never heard of the subject. Sorry. A congregation can listen well and perhaps agree with you at the time, but that's no guarantee that they will remember. Learning is a developing thing. After all, the school system recognizes that it takes a while and several lessons for a student to read and to manipulate numbers. Christians are not exempt; Peter said, "But grow in grace, and [in] the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3:18a).

Whatever causes our memory fading, many would agree that it is a real phenomenon. Jesus, who created us, knows what is in man "and needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man" (John 2:25). Did He illustrate a way to teach so that memory might be enhanced? A stated goal of Jesus was for them to remember what He had said when the "time shall come" (John 16:4; 2:21-22). "And they remembered His words" (Luke 24:8). What means did Jesus employ to teach?

We know that Jesus used question-answers; He used visuals from His environment (the fields; coins at the temple); He used objects and modeling (little children; washing feet); He used metaphors and hyperboles (log in an eye; cutting off an arm). But by the count in the synoptic gospels, over one-third of Jesus' instructions were stories.

Storytelling has been around probably as long as human language. The ancients, American Indians, Australian Aborigines, African griots, Irish seanchai and Medieval minstrels entertained (probably around evening fires) with their stories of heroism and enchantments. Historically, story telling seems to have played a major role in human interaction. A theory about memory is that "all of our knowledge is encoded in the form of stories and the mechanisms to construct them and retrieve them."i

Jesus' unique stories are labeled "parables"; they served a dual purpose. While they were designed to give understanding of the imminent kingdom (church; Matthew 16:18) to His apostles, they also hid truths (mysteries) from His hostile religious leaders (Matthew 13:11).

Jesus' parables were visual with mental images and everyday settings that were known to the listeners. Although the stories seem simple, they dealt with abstract notions and comparisons. Can you just see someone trying to sew a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment? Prejudices were bypassed leaving the audience a space of freedom to make the necessary conclusion; e.g., a Samaritan helping an injured Jew and show who a real neighbor is.

Jesus' parables were sometimes repetitive which would help memory. Jesus used a pattern of threes and fours: the seed of the kingdom falls upon four types of soil (Luke 8:11-15); four calls to work (Matthew 20:1ff); three talents and three abilities (Matthew 25); three audits of the husbandmen (Matthew 21:37). The lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal (lost) son all deal with loss and redemption. The friend at night, the unjust judge, and the Pharisee and publican stories all tell about prayer.

Jesus' stories are memorable because they were addressed to specific contexts in the ministry of Jesus. They were intended to change behavior and create disciples. Appropriately selected stories can today not only get the congregation's attention to Biblical Truth but provide a storage device for remembering.

- Gaylon West

Throw Out the Lifeline

i Accessed 4/12/2014.