Narrative Arcs and Jumping Sharks


Narrative Arcs and Jumping Sharks
A Lenten Meditation
by Brian Zahnd

What I am doing you do not understand now. -Jesus


We all wear the same thorny crown. -Dylan

The call of Christ is simple, primal even: “Follow me.”

Either we do or we don’t. Either we will or we won’t.

It takes real faith to believe in Jesus enough to actually make your way through the darkness of this world illuminated by the light of Christ.

As we believe the gospel and begin to follow Jesus, our story becomes enfolded into Jesus’ story. There is a merging of stories. Our life becomes an original adaptation of the Passion Play.

The transformation that occurs as our story begins to take on elements of Jesus’ story is what salvation looks like. We’re not conformed to the image of Christ until our story roughly simulates the contours of Jesus’ story.

So remember the narrative arc of the Jesus story (so pronounced in the synoptic gospels). After his baptism and initial testing, Jesus experiences a steady rise in influence and popularity. We would call it success. This steady rise reaches its zenith with the miracles of the loaves and fishes (when the crowd wanted to make him king) and the Transfiguration (when his divine glory is fully seen).

But then there is a change.

If the story of Jesus had a musical score, it would switch from a major key to a minor key. The foreshadowing bodes ill.

The arc begins to bend downward. From the Transfiguration on, the story of Jesus becomes a descending spiral of controversy, opposition, and misunderstanding. The downward arc becomes precipitous during the final week, culminating in betrayal, arrest, condemnation, rejection, crucifixion, and death. Jesus is no longer a success. He dies a failure. Officially so. A crucified messiah is a failed messiah. A dead messiah is no messiah.

So Jesus is…

Dead and buried. Such an embarrassing end to such a promising start. Pack it up and go home.

Dead End.

The End.

And Then…

The Easter Surprise!!

Suddenly the narrative arc shoots up out of the grave and rises to the sky.

This is the gospel. The Jesus story.

And it’s the salvation narrative your story is being enfolded into.

To move into the second half of your own story of following Jesus requires you to risk being misunderstood.

If you want to hold on to popularity and “success” at all costs, then your story has stalled. You’re stuck. No more growth. Pretty soon the plot will “jump the shark.” (Google it.) And watch out then…you’re in danger of the series being cancelled.


Are you willing to follow the narrative arc of Christ all the way?

Risk being mocked and misunderstood?

Risk what seems like sabotaging your own success?

Risk having the crowd walk away, or worse yet, turn on you?

You have to risk it or the story stalls.

You have to enter into the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ if you ever want to really know the power of his resurrection.

This is the truth.

Something to think about during Lent.




The artwork is Jesus Crown of Thorns by Thu Sophannarith

Jumping the Shark