When we read “narrative” – that is, story – we naturally find ourselves identifying with some characters, and perhaps distancing ourselves from others. We do the same thing when we watch films or TV shows too. There’s nothing wrong with that, whether it is a fictional story (like a film), or an inspired account of something that actually happened (like a biblical narrative).
As a preacher, part of your task is to tap into this natural response to narrative. You do this by telling the story well enough that people start to identify. You do this by overtly helping people to identify. But sometimes the natural point of identification is not the way to go (or maybe it is the way to go, with a twist somewhere along the line for greater affective impact!) Take, for example, the passion narratives. Who might you, or your listeners, naturally identify with? Caiaphas, Peter, Pilate, Judas?
Here’s an interesting quote from a certain German monk, a Dr Martin Luther:
“It is a Christian art when a person can regard the Lord Jesus as one whose business is to deal with our sins. . . . Although Christians will identify themselves with Judas, Caiaphas, and Pilate; sinful, condemned actors in the Gospel story – there is another who took the sins of humanity on himself when they were hung around his neck. . . . And today, Easter Sunday, when we see him, they are gone; there is only righteusness and life, the Risen Christ who comes to share his gifts.” (Sermons, 125.)
The amazing thing about the easter story, the heart of our proclamation, is that while we naturally identify with so many of the characters involved, we are invited to identify with the One at the centre of it all. It isn’t natural that we identify with the sinless Jesus, but it is the heart of the gospel to do so!