The Power of Point of View

“Why do we pull for Jesus in the gospels?” One Unexpected Reason

by GARY YAMASAKI   In a story, there will often be a single character who attracts the spotlight. This, of course, is the case in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with Jesus occupying that role, though the degree to which the spotlight stays on Jesus in these stories is noteworthy. Take the Gospel of Mark as an example. From the time Jesus arrives on the scene in 1:9 until the time when he is arrested in 14:50, the spotlight remains on Jesus continuously, except for the report of John the Baptist’s death (6:14-29); the whole rest of the time, Mark’s movie camera follows Jesus wherever he goes.

Despite the fact that keeping the spotlight on a single character is a common storytelling device, the degree to which it is utilized in Mark is extreme. The readers are kept in a position in proximity to Jesus episode after episode after episode. They are there when Jesus confronts James and John over their request to have positions at his right and at his left in his new kingdom (10:35-45). They are there when he heals a blind man outside Jericho (10:46-52). They are there as he makes his entry into Jerusalem (11:1-11). This type of positioning by the Markan storyteller makes the readers feel like they are Jesus’ constant companions.

Of course, the readers could have been placed in any number of other positions—among travelers to Jerusalem wondering about the commotion up the road from them; or among a group of chief priests in the city viewing the procession from afar; or among some Roman soldiers who have just been ordered to stand ready in the face of a potential riot. Despite the many options available, the Markan storyteller chooses to maintain a consistent pattern of placing the readers in proximity to Jesus, and this strategy impacts the way in which the readers experience the story. This type of positioning places the readers into the same circumstances being faced by Jesus. They are led to experience the same things Jesus is experiencing. To put it another way, they are being situated to view the details of the story world through the same point of view as that of Jesus.

In an earlier post, the point was made that if readers are led to have a subjective experience of a character—another way of saying “viewing the events of the story line through a character’s point of view”—the readers will develop a sense of empathy for that character, and thus, become inclined to pull for the character in whatever he or she does. Well, this dynamic of having the readers follow a particular character is a specific point-of-view move contributing toward giving the readers a subjective experience of a character.

This “following” dynamic is one of the most important point-of-view moves in a biblical storyteller’s tool belt, and it is one that is clearly contributing toward inclining the readers of the gospels to have a positive attitude toward Jesus. However, as important as this dynamic is, it always needs the help of other point-of-view moves functioning toward the same end result in order to establish a particular character as a “point-of-view character.” These other point-of-view moves are varied, and will be covered in future posts.

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2 Responses »

  1. Great article Gary. I’m always looking for more updates on Perspective Criticism. Though I was hoping for an “implication”, “fact” and “worldview” at the bottom of this article 🙂

  2. Thanks for commenting, Justun. If you want an automatic notification whenever an update is posted, simply click on the “Follow” button on any page and fill in your name and email address (but I’m afraid you won’t be finding implications and elements of worldview in the posts!)

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