You have undoubtedly noticed that Jesus teaches most often through parables. Have you also noticed that when Jesus does this, you are invariably drawn to and identify with one of the characters? Sometimes you are the prodigal son and sometimes the elder brother. At times you aspire to be the good Samaritan, and other times you know yourself to be the wounded man fallen by the wayside.

Through the parables, Jesus teaches us that stories matter. Stories draw us in by naming our sins and gifts, shining a light of recognition and calling us to be what God intends us to be. As you’ve seen from this collection of reader reflections, the biblical characters often invite us to understand ourselves more deeply and dig into who we are in relation to others and to God.

So here is a challenge:

First, think of one character from a biblical story with whom you identify. For example, are you like Naomi, a widow who has lost her husband and sons and feels lost and lonely? Are you like the rich young man who comes to Jesus asking questions? Open up the Scripture and be inspired. There are myriad possibilities.

Second, read your character’s story (or stories) multiple times, exploring all the details. Let the story pose questions and wonderments. Dwell with the story; inhabit your character from different angles.

Third, give yourself over to the study of your story and your character — for a month, six months or even a year. Read study notes, articles, books or even novels. Think about the historical and literary context of your character’s story(ies). Talk about your character with friends and family.

Perhaps you can share with a study partner who is exploring his or her own chosen biblical character. Talk with people of different ages and cultures and listen to their insights about your character. Look for music (hymns or popular songs), film and art that express your story. Be playful and let your biblical imagination take flight.

Throughout this process ask yourself some questions: What am I learning about myself from my chosen character? What are my failings and strengths? Is this character more about who I have been or what I want to become? What am I being called to be, say or do? How is this exploration of my character helping me to better understand myself as a child of God?

When the time comes and your heart is full, the Bible will be newly alive to you since you lived each day accompanied by your biblical counterpart. Perhaps you’ll start the process all over again with a brand new character.

Diane L. Jacobson

Jacobson is director of the ELCA Book of Faith and professor emeritus of Old Testament at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn., where she taught from 1982 to 2010.

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