When I go to a restaurant to eat a meal, I look at the menu, think about the winelist, wonder if I should have desert and then pay the bill and go home, having enjoyed good company.
But the new Network 10 program Masterchef is challenging me to reconsider such superficial and self-centered behaviour. What is important, apparently, is the passion of the Chef, their love for, and knowledge of their ingredients, and, above all, the story that they and their food represent.
Human stories resonate deeply within us, to the very core of our beings. Though poles apart, the producers of Masterchef appreciate a truth which was embraced by the Lord Jesus: people are more receptive to learning truth through the subjective realities represented by stories more than they are to the abstract realities of propositional teaching.

Why should I care about whether a young woman can identify the ingredients in a Bolognese sauce? When I know she’s a vegetarian, I know she’s got a bigger challenge than the other contestants. Why would I feel sorrow for one young man’s clearly sub-standard fare? As he tells of his concern for his young family under threat of a cyclone in North Queensland, and the desire he has to return to them, I am happy for his withdrawal from the competition to go home.
Stories emerge at a dizzying pace. One is a recovering anorexic, another has seen her mother through recovery from cancer treatment, others wish to launch themselves from one career or another into new lives. As the thousands of applicants are reduced to fifty, and then to a final twenty, there is someone that you can either identify with or empathise with. This has been achieved because we have listened to these people share their backgrounds, their relationships and their desires.
The fact we will never (almost never) cook anything that they cook is irrelevant. This show is not meant to teach you how to chop onions or make a cream sauce. It is meant to make you follow someone’s story to a point of fulfillment and new beginning.
The Lord Jesus told his truths, both great and small, through stories. A man sowing in a field. Houses being built on foundations of rock or sand. A good Samaritan. A shepherd who left ninety-nine to go and search for one. A father who loved two sons, both of whom were distanced from his love, though only one ever left home. Yeast. Pearls. Servants. The list goes on and on.
Even now, those of us who barely know one end of a sheep from the other can understand the protective care that God has for us. We may never have built a house, but we know that eternal security is ours as we trust the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ as the ground of our salvation. We have never walked the lonely and dangerous paths of Israel, but we are challenged to love those we would otherwise recoil from. And all of these things we understand by story.
Look past the odd recipes and ludicrous challenges of Masterchef and you will understand that what draws us to watch is not the hope we will see the next great chef or recipe emerge, but that we will be enriched through the privilege of learning someone’s story.
One of the major problems (among many) with the show which Masterchef replaced, Big Brother, is that the stories of the contestants were not being expanded. If anything everyone’s individual story was halted while they were in the unreal and intensely self-absorbed atmosphere of that competition. Masterchef is more about people growing and expanding their existing skills and desires. (Albeit in an very intense and artificial environment) Something is being produced. Something is being done. So growth and advancement of their stories are possible.
Positively, exposure to those who achieve positive outcomes encourages us to take on new goals and not to feel limited by our present circumstances. Negatively, we can simply watch someone else achieve something and make no effort to do anything ourselves.
Similarly, Jesus did not tell stories simply to entertain us with His skill as a story teller. If we have truly understood His stories we have been challenged to ask ourselves: ‘Have I repented and trusted Jesus as my Saviour and Lord?’ ‘Does my life mark me as a citizen of the kingdom or a counterfeit who needs to set matters aright?’
The power of good story is not in the art and content of the story: it is in the response. If you have not responded to the Gospel you have not really absorbed the stories of Jesus at all.
As someone who is not naturally a story teller, this represents a challenge for preaching and teaching. Last year I listened to R. Kent Hughes explain how he had spend a lifetime gathering and cross-referencing thousands of illustrations. Older preachers such as Donald Barnhouse and contemporary ones such as Max Lucado are fine examples as well. But ultimately the best reason to be a story teller in teaching ministry is because that is the example that Jesus set for us: a truth contained in story is one that can be absorbed into the conscious mind with life transforming power.

2 thoughts on “Masterchef – The power of narrative and story

  1. Matt Eudy says:

    Agreed, a good story can get stuck your head like a song; making it easier to reference when the story’s lesson becomes applicable in life.

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