Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.
~ Matthew 26:13
One of my favorite storytelling tricks is called breaking the fourth wall. There was once a playwright, you see, who insisted on making his stage productions as realistic as possible. In a play performed on a stage with three walls, the audience must be the fourth wall.
Thus the fourth wall became a phrase describing the imaginary boundary between the audience and the performers, or (more broadly) between reality and fiction. When a performer acknowledges the audience, that fourth wall is broken. This trick is often used for comedic effect or even as a clever, self-aware way for fiction to communicate its meaning.
It occurred to me not long ago that Jesus seems to break the fourth wall, so to speak, in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark. The story is a familiar one. Days before his crucifixion, Jesus is anointed with perfume by a woman. His disciples are indignant: “Why this waste? This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”
Jesus gives this touching reply: “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial.”
Then things get awesome as Jesus breaks the fourth wall.
“Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”
In simply speaking those words, recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark and later preached to countless people over many centuries, Jesus made them come true.
As much as I’d like to assume Jesus specifically meant the Gospel of Matthew or the Gospel of Mark when he said “this gospel,” history tells us otherwise. The word translated gospel in this passage—and later applied to the books of Matthew and Mark—means good news. By “this gospel,” Jesus was speaking broadly of the good news of his life, death and resurrection—not of a specific Gospel in the Bible.
All the same, I chuckle every time I read that passage. Jesus was a man of miracles. He walked on water, healed the sick, raised the dead and did what no one (as far as I know) has ever done outside of fiction.
Jesus broke the fourth wall.
This post was originally published on April 17, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on April 20, 2015!