Jokes in the Bible

Is it wrong to giggle at the Scripture? Are there jokes in the Bible?

I ask because for some time now, the morning prayer group have found it difficult to contain themselves when reading Psalm 44 verse 12: “You sold your people for a trifle.”

We know what it means, but it just brings up images of a small pot of Bird’s Custard Trifle

Now we’re online streaming, the same problem arose today, when we looked at Psalm 115 verse 6: “Their idols…they have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell” and immediately thoughts went to the first joke we managed to teach Aneurin, though we taught him the ‘dog’ version.

My god’s got no nose!
No nose, how does it smell?
Terrible!

There are other examples:

Matthew 4:18: “As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting Annette into the sea – for they were fishermen.” (author’s hearing)

I always feel sorry for Peter and Andrew’s sister when I listen to this passage being read. We hear nothing about her ever again, but primarily, she’s not even introduced!

I’m sure by now you’ll be saying that these are just jokes from translation, or even worse, jokes from mishearing, but are there REAL jokes in the Bible?

When we open our Bibles, we do it in the belief that we’re reading something serious and solemn, even though it contains the Good News about Jesus Christ – about his death and Resurrection and what that really means for us. There are, however, some real jokes in the Bible, even though we might not understand the Hebrew culture of jokes:

When Elijah summons the prophets of Ba’al to Mount Carmel in 1 Kings 18, he does so in the full knowledge that this is going to be a one-sided battle between his God and Ba’al. But Elijah tries to make it look as though there is a level playing field. Ba’al after all is the god of rain, the god of thunder, the god fertility and the god of weather in general. So, what better way for this god proving himself in a time of drought than by sending down lightning to burn up an altar, soaked in water.

The prophets of Ba’al called out to him, they limped around the altar, in the end they cut themselves, whilst all the while Elijah taunted them. “Maybe he’s meditating or wandered off, or maybe asleep.” We’ve missed the joke… when Elijah taunts them about him meditating and wandering off, the two Hebrew words he uses can also mean err… ‘using the bathroom!’ Ba’al’s taking a bathroom break whilst meditating on the loo!

A second joke occurs in Mark Chapter 5. Jesus asks the demons possessing the man, “What is your name?” and the demons reply, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” And Jesus commands them to come out of the man and possess a herd of pigs who immediately run over the edge of a cliff into the lake. Did you miss the joke?

The Jewish people are under the military rule of the Romans, who are ordered into Legions. They are unpopular and almost every single Jew would wish that a legion would take a long walk off a short cliff!

There are more jokes if you only look carefully.

Peter Hall

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Can’t keep it in!

16 April 2020

When I heard about ‘lockdown’, I thought “What a wonderful chance to get some work done—if only I, or someone near to me doesn’t become ill”.  As I am retired, by “work” I meant preparing for “BAP”—the Bishops’ Advisory Panel.  That is the Church of England’s three day selection exercise for choosing ordinands.  Not priests, but people selected to become ordinands and undergo two to three years of ordination training to become first curates, and later priests. I have to admit, it’s rather a lot of hoops for someone who is already 61, but I am hoping that, if I am selected the Church will get 10 years of service from me in addition to the time I spend as a trainee and curate.  And that’s all unpaid service, as if selected, I will be on the path to becoming an SSM, or Self-Supporting Minister.

Unfortunately, an unforeseeable family situation meant that it has been difficult for me to do as much work as I had planned.  Nonetheless, I am optimistic about being ready by mid-June when my BAP will take place in its new virtual guise.  I have spent 18 months analysing and worrying about traditional BAP and am much relieved that I will be able to do the new version without leaving home, rather than traipsing halfway across the country.  Didn’t Jesus say, “Don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself”?  The “proof is in the pudding” or in the BAP, as they say.

“Well, what is this ‘work’ all about?”, people ask me when I tell them I am in “discernment.”  I have been in discernment for over a year and it has involved a number of conversations, essays, more conversations and more essays.  All of these conversations and essays revolve around the church’s selection criteria, which include topics such as spirituality, faith, vocation, ministry in the Church of England, leadership, relationships, mission and evangelism, quality of mind and personality and character.

I have found the whole process immensely enjoyable.  Since my experience with cancer, there is nothing I like more than reading the Bible and theology books, thinking, praying, and writing.  Superficially, the process is largely about filling in forms and taking part in interviews, but the forms and interviews require you to dig really deep and I find that fulfilling.  The fact that I find this all so satisfying makes me feel that I am following the right path. I am really looking forward to doing the training, which should start in September or October.  I suppose that that might start virtually as well.  No matter.  It has been and will continue to be an amazing journey—even if I am turned down.

I have to thank Elaine for giving me so many opportunities to “test my vocation” by leading services and giving sermons. That is another big part of discernment. I also have to thank the congregations of St George’s and St Gabriel’s for so patiently enduring the ministrations and sermons of a fledgling.  Hopefully by July we will all know where I stand.  Either way, I will continue to “write stuff”.  Can’t keep it in.

Kim Regan

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Reflections on the lockdown

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a busy person and like so many retired people, I have no idea how I found time to go to work. Realistically we take on many more things in retirement that we would never have had time for in our working life. So when the lockdown started I thought (like many others I’m sure) this is the time to get all those jobs done that I’ve never had time to do! It will probably come as no surprise, that three weeks in only a fraction of those jobs have been done. Maybe motivation is also a factor and not just time. Granted we have had a tidy up in the loft, no I’ll rephrase that, I have had a tidy up in the loft while being given advice from the top of the loft ladder. I had visions of throwing away enough to fill a skip, but that hasn’t happened either, but I do know what we’ve got and where it is and there are some files of paperwork to be sorted in the evening with one eye on the TV.

Next on the list was to label all the photos taken on our recent trip to New Zealand and edit them at the same time. Well I’ve just got to the end of week one of a six week trip. Along with that was to write an article for Grapevine about the churches we visited. You will be the judge of that when the next Grapevine arrives in your inbox, but at the moment it’s all in my head. Let’s not think about the spring cleaning I was planning, that’s not happened either as basically my theory goes that if no-one is coming to visit us, what is the point of a massive clean? There has also been talk of repainting the lounge, but again we haven’t quite made it.

The garden has however benefitted, particularly because the weather has been so lovely. We have dug and weeded bits of the garden that I don’t think have seen a fork or spade for twenty years and some plants seem to be delighted that they can see the light again. Fences have been creosoted (not by me, I’m too messy), and trellis attached ready for the perennial sweet peas to grow. Compost has been dug in ready for the vegetable plants and my reluctance to throw anything away has meant that there are seeds to be planted when the time is right. I now have time to watch the garden and find it fascinating on my morning inspection to see that the peonies have grown a ridiculous amount overnight and can now be coaxed inside the restraining frame. Anyone would think from this that I’m a keen gardener and they’d be very wrong, but I do like the garden to look tidy.

I was very grateful to have a nice space in the garden to sit yesterday at 2 p.m. This was the time that the funeral of a friend, who had died from Covid-19, was taking place in Blackpool. To be outside was perfect as Paul was someone who loved being in the out of doors and would think nothing of a 50 mile bike ride before lunch at the age of 80! I lit a candle and sat looking at the garden, praying and remembering happy times and holidays together. It felt very peaceful and we will celebrate his life together when we can all travel.

Hazel Jenkins

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Biblical mind’s eye

If you’re anything like me, Biblical narrative creates images of each particular scene in your mind’s eye. In a poem about the Nativity I suggested that the “… acute mind’s eye forms images that centuries of art have fashioned”. In the same poem I noted that these images are “… as numerous as those who have them”, and no doubt what you see is very different from that which forms in my mind – that’s inevitable. Artists’ depictions across the centuries will have been the product not only of their own imaginations, but also of what they saw around them. Thus, we find buildings in classical style, or landscapes that seem far removed from those of the Holy Land. Nevertheless, there are sometimes elements that are unsettlingly contemporary: in Hieronymus Bosch’s Christ Carrying the Cross, the faces of some of the figures surrounding Jesus have punk-like piercings!

It would be difficult to illustrate or describe just what I do imagine. The surroundings of the scenes are neither particularly historic nor contemporary; indeed, there is little if any background at all, but there are certainly the people. Even then they don’t have memorable features; it is perhaps expressions and gestures that figure more prominently. Some of the more familiar events tend to provide the most immediate images: Christ’s first miracle at the wedding in Cana, the feeding of the five thousand, or turning out the money changers and sellers of doves from the temple. But others are of smaller details such, as the soldiers gambling at the foot of the cross – why? I don’t know! Each scene, imprints images in my mind – I can’t prevent it – it seems entirely natural and spontaneous. But I’m glad they do, for isn’t this what brings the narrative to life and enables us to identify with it in a much more personal, vivid and intense way?

If you’re reading this and making sense of my thoughts, it is reassuring! If you think they’re slightly odd – I understand. Yet the artists who, over the centuries, have created images of Biblical events also needed to rely on their own minds’ eyes to inspire their work.

Of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances, that experienced by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus has always resonated profoundly with me. They were with him all that time as he walked with them and explained what the scriptures said about him, yet it was only when he blessed and broke bread that they recognised him, and then he vanished from their sight. That precise instant is captured in a small section of a medieval stained-glass window of which I have an illustration. Christ raises his hand in blessing; the two disciples, one at either side, each raise a hand in a gesture of astonishment frequently found in medieval art. I find it very moving that an anonymous stained-glass artist of centuries ago has depicted this miraculous moment in a way that is immediately apparent, through gesture and context, as clearly today as it was when the window was first made. The scene was recreated in the artist/craftsman’s own mind’s eye and reproduced in the beauty of stained glass. It is not as I imagine the scene, but it has a direct impact because the artist and I both share the wonder and significance of it, even though separated by some six to seven hundred years!

Andrew Mayes

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Now Barabbas was an urban guerrilla (or, why isn’t God as we want him to be?)

When I was a child, there were incidents in the Passion narrative that didn’t make sense to my young mind. In particular, why the crowd demanded the release of Barabbas rather than Jesus – why on earth would they do that? As I grew up and gradually became spiritually and historically/politically more aware, it became much clearer, but also revealed that there are times when our view of God can sometimes be distorted for reasons similar to those of the clamouring crowd.

What can we learn about Barabbas from the Gospels? John 18: 40 simply states: “Now Barabbas was a bandit.” Matthew 27: 16 is similarly succinct: “At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Jesus Barabbas.” A bandit, a notorious prisoner – but what had he done? We have to turn to Mark and Luke for more detailed information. Mark 15: 7 makes clear the reason for his imprisonment: “Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder in the insurrection.” Luke 23: 19 similarly informs “This was a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection that had taken place in the city, and for murder.” Insurrection and murder – now we are building up a clearer picture of the man Barabbas.

The Jews were a people under Roman occupation, and evidently there were pockets of resistance and rebellion which had resulted in serious violence. It’s easy to imagine that Barabbas had become something of a cult figure, a ruthless urban guerrilla, if you like, and a focus for support against Roman subjugation. But had there not been promised a Messiah who would free the Jewish people and, more to the point, had not Jesus claimed to be the Messiah? Certainly, he had performed miracles; healing the sick, feeding the five thousand, stilling a raging storm. He had taught of a new way of life, but love your enemies – how was that going to help gain freedom from the Roman oppressors? Barabbas was a man of action; it is not difficult to understand how the chief priests and elders managed to stir up the crowd and persuade them to demand his release. Barabbas was clearly more the sort of character they needed to fight for their freedom. Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t appear to be up to the job – not the man they wanted him to be!

Aren’t there moments, when our prayers don’t seem to be being answered, when events such as the Covid-19 pandemic are becoming disturbingly threatening and out of our control, that in our desperation we ask ourselves why isn’t God as we want him to be? Like the crowd who shouted for the release of Barabbas rather than Jesus, we want some action! Doesn’t God love us, doesn’t he want to protect us from the horrors that at times confront us?

But then we realise that God himself has been in this very same situation – the cry of Jesus, God’s own Son, on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” rings in our ears. All that the world could throw at humankind for all of time was endured by God in the person of Jesus in that single, terrifying, concentrated moment. We realise also it is the resurrection of Jesus on the first Easter morning that reveals God’s love and the ultimate triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, life over death, not in terms of the temporal, but of the eternal. God does love and care for us, and always will, even if in our darkest moments we can sometimes doubt it.

Andrew Mayes

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When words fail

Over this period of Lent and now lock down, I have had several books on the go and my head has been swirling with thoughts about “things too wonderful for me” (Job 42:3).  One of the books I have been enjoying is Rowan Williams’, Luminaries: Twenty lives that illuminate the Christian way (2019).  Further on I will discuss his chapter on Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), an Archbishop of Canterbury and author of the Book of Common Prayer.  But first I will set the scene by considering the difficulty of expressing holy things, particularly as we find ourselves here in Holy Week.

As anyone who gropes with the words to convey in conversation or in written form the things of God will know, you can never quite say enough or get it quite right.  There is always something more to be said, some added detail or nuance.  And we can be sure that not even the four Gospels testify to the full truth.  The Gospel of St John ends in this manner: “This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true.  But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:24-25).

Furthermore, each one of the three-person Godhead is full of paradoxes. How could anyone so glorious, so majestic and so mighty be captured in words?  As God said, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8).  In the Book of Job, Job and his three friends struggle to fathom God, but in the end all four of them are put to shame.  In the last chapter of Job, God engages him in conversation and Job says, “Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.  Hear, and I will speak,… I had heard you by hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:3-6).

Famous theologian, Karl Barth (1886-1968), who wrote many heavy, barely penetrable and esoteric pieces about the faith was once asked to sum up his five-volume Church Dogmatics and the best he could do was to say, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Over the centuries, many people have criticised Thomas Cranmer for his “repetitive” and “clunky” language in the Book of Common Prayer.  When Rowan Williams was Archbishop of Canterbury he was asked to preach a sermon on the 450th anniversary of the martyrdom of Cranmer.  In his sermon he offered a powerful defence of the man who had done so much to create an English version of the Reformation.  As Wikipedia states, “he was responsible for establishing the first doctrinal and liturgical structures of the reformed Church of England.”  He published the first church service in the English language, now part of the Book of Common Prayer.

In his chapter on Cranmer, Williams writes, “It was once fashionable to decry Cranmer’s liturgical rhetoric as overblown and repetitive.  People often held up as typical the echoing sequences of which he and his colleagues were so fond. ‘A full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction,’ and ‘succour, help and comfort all that are in danger, necessity and tribulation… and, of course, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’”

Cranmer served as Archbishop of Canterbury under three monarchs, but when the Roman Catholic Mary I acceded to the throne he was arrested and tried for treason.  Imprisoned for two years and harassed by Church authorities, Cranmer recanted several times.  Williams explains this wavering, saying, “The habit of mind which always circled and hovered, tested words and set them to work against each other in fruitful tension and sought to embody in words the reality of penitence and self-scrutiny, condemned him, especially in the midst of isolation, confusion, threats and seduction of spirit, to a long agony, the end of which, came only minutes before his last hurrying, stumbling walk through the rain to the stake.”  In typical fashion, Cranmer had written “two contradictory versions of his final confession.” The one he handed over at the end represented himself to martyrdom as an adherent to the Reformed, rather than the Catholic tradition.

As God’s word is made not merely of words as we know them, but of ultimate reality, death can serve as his final word.  It served as a final word for martyrdom for Cranmer and as a final word for martyrdom on Good Friday for Christ at Calvary.

References:

Holy Bible, NRSV.
Thomas Cranmer-Wikipedia
Rowan Williams, 2019, “Thomas Cranmer 1489-1556 ‘The word of God is not bound’, in Luminaries: Twenty lives that illuminate the Christian Way. London: SPCK.

Kim Regan

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Who is my Neighbour?

Martin B. Copenhaver has written a book called ‘Jesus is the Question – The 307 Questions Jesus Was Asked and The 3 He Answered’. He has concluded that Jesus was asked 307 questions, but only directly answered three.

I’m glad that Martin B. Copenhaver took the time to search through the Gospels and add up the questions. Such seemingly trivial facts are a stimulus to reflection. So how does Jesus respond when asked a question? He asks a question himself – he asked 183 questions- or tells a story, or both. He gives the responsibility back to the listener.

A lawyer asks Jesus what he has to do to gain eternal life. Jesus promptly asks him, ‘What is written in the law?’ The lawyer knows his stuff and promptly replies ,’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself.’ Jesus confirms that he has answered rightly. But the lawyer has one more question, ‘Who is my neighbour?’ Is it a genuine question, or has he been trying to catch Jesus out all along? Jesus proceeds to tell a story, one that has become very familiar.

A man is travelling from Jerusalem to Jericho and he is attacked by robbers, who strip him, beat him and leave him half dead. By chance a priest comes down the road, sees the man, crosses the road and travels on. A Levite (assistant to the Temple priests) similarly sees the man, crosses the road and passes by on the other side. But a Samaritan travelling the same road, sees the man, treats and binds his wounds, transports him to an inn, pays for him to be taken care of and promises on his way back to foot the bill for any further expenses. That is the answer to, ‘Who is my neighbour?’

There was huge animosity between the Jews and Samaritans. They really did not get on. Politics and religion were involved. Think Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland and Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia. What prejudice exists in my life that would mean I would rather cross the road than help? The priest and the Levite deliberately cross the road so that do not have to pay any attention to the injured man, because, if they did….. The Samaritan pays full attention to the man and his needs, and because he does, he acts compassionately. As Benedictine monk Laurence Freeman says, ‘Our neighbour is whoever we give our attention to’.

Chris Dawson

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Patience

Who said patience was a virtue?
Well patience is variously mentioned in the Bible as one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22,one of the gifts of the spirit in love in 1 Corinthians 13 and the letter of James Chapter 5 exhorts the brothers to be patient in waiting for the Lord. This is not an exhaustive list.
Patience is something that many of us is practising during this period of lockdown. Things take much longer than they used to. Planning for services, requires us to think outside the box. What worked in a Church setting has to be reimagined at home.
There may be people who find their patience sorely tested. Two weeks of going away on holiday with beloved family members, where sights can be visited, views appreciated and when food is freely available may be just about manageable in terms of being perfectly pleasant with each other.
However, the same two weeks, stuck at home with the same people, with the same four walls, the same view outside and food limitations may just about test the patience of a saint.
So, we look to rediscovering things. That may be as simple as decluttering, although there is nowhere to take it, but it does mean that you can actually seen the floor of the glory hole under the stairs. The items that were lost have been miraculously found and the board games that had been consigned to darkness suddenly seem a bit more interesting.
It may be a forgotten hobby. I had been meaning to play the ukulele which I’d taken with us on various house moves and never got around to learning – that’s on my to do list so I can keep up with my great niece aged 7.
In the back of a drawer, I found a bag of pebbles which we collected when we were in New Zealand. I intended to tumble them. Peter had already bought me the machine, obtained the various grades of grit for making everything smooth so on what passes for my day off, I decided to get stuck in.
Much was made of my endeavours, but the reality was more muted. Step one: take the tumbler out of the box. Step two: open the tumbler barrel. Step three: put in the required grit. Step four: pour in the stones and cover with water. Step five: put everything back together, plug in and set the speed and leave it on.
That was on Saturday morning. My aspiration was that I would have beautifully coloured gemstones which would adorn my office or provide gifts for the family by that evening. However, upon reading the instructions, it transpired that this was the first of three such procedures with the grit becoming finer as time went on. It also meant that it needed to be checked after ten to fourteen days for the best results. That meant waiting. That was not good.
Sometimes, and especially in these times, patience and waiting doesn’t always play to our strengths and yet to keep ourselves and others safe, we have to wait, we have to be patient until we are given further instructions.
In the meantime, we have to make the most of rediscovering what we might do, could do and will do.
I’ll keep you posted about the pebbles!!

Elaine

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Words from C. S. Lewis

Now I know that this is cheating, but I can’t resist this item from a Church Times supplement:
The immediacy of the present threat is, in the present age, unprecedented. There are parallels, however, in other existential threats that humanity has faced. The ecological crisis is one; another is the nuclear threat—not eliminated, but felt more keenly by a former generation.
One was C.S. Lewis, whose words, written in 1948, went viral last week:
“How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anaesthetics; but we have that still.
It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
C.S. Lewis “On Living in an Atomic Age”
Apart from the first sentence, the above was taken from a little supplement to The Church Times on 27 March 2020.

Kim Regan

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Today is 1st April

I do hope that the Panorama article from 1957 lightened your mood this morning.

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