Saturday Night Live writer A. Whitney Brown turned many a funny phrase in the 1980s, but that line – delivered during his Big Picture editorial on Weekend Update (at right) in the Dennis Miller Era – has to be his best.
I liked it so much that borrowed it, in a fashion, for a song I wrote many years ago called Still Got the Blues (Blasphemy is a blast for me, and she tries to be a saint…). The song won the Fort McMurray Music Writing Competition, netting me a C-note – I wonder if I owe Mr. Brown some royalties…
But the reason I bring up the phrase today doesn’t relate to my songwriting ‘prowess’ or even Saturday Night Live, but to another giant of sketch comedy – Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Last week in Beatitude Adjustment, I wrote about insights about Jesus I picked up from the Sermon on the Mount Scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian – and in the process of researching that post, I stumbled upon another little slice of epiphany.
(For a movie that’s been called blasphemous and heretical, it’s a surprisingly good Bible study tool – at least for Baldy! It may be blasphemy, but it’s a blast for me.)
Anyway, today’s insight stems from a scene where Brian (Graham Chapman) and his mom, Mandy (Terry Jones), are walking down the street in Jerusalem, when a beggar (Michael Palin) asks them for some spare change. Let’s pick up the dialogue part of the way in:
EX-LEPER: Half a shekel for an old ex-leper?
BRIAN: Did you say “ex-leper”?
EX-LEPER: That’s right, sir, 16 years behind a veil and proud of it, sir.
BRIAN: Well, what happened?
EX-LEPER: Oh, cured, sir.
EX-LEPER: Yes sir, bloody miracle, sir. Bless you!
BRIAN:Who cured you?
EX-LEPER: Jesus did, sir. I was hopping along, minding my own business, all of a sudden, up he comes, cures me! One minute I’m a leper with a trade, next minute my livelihood’s gone. Not so much as a by-your-leave! “You’re cured, mate.” Bloody do-gooder.
BRIAN: Well, why don’t you go and tell him you want to be a leper again?
EX-LEPER: Uh, I could do that sir, yeah. Yeah, I could do that I suppose. What I was thinking was I was going to ask him if he could make me a bit lame in one leg during the middle of the week. You know, something beggable, but not leprosy, which is a pain in the ass to be blunt and excuse my French, sir.
MANDY : Brian! Come and clean your room out.
BRIAN: (gives him a coin) There you are!
EX-LEPER: Thank you, sir. Thanks…What? Half a dinare for me bloody life story?
BRIAN: There’s no pleasing some people.
EX-LEPER: That’s just what Jesus said, sir.
This scene is absolutely hilarious. But like all great satire, what makes it brilliant isn’t how nonsensical it is, but how much it illustrates truth – both by exaggerating reality for the sake of bombast, and also by contradicting it by way of irony.
* * *
First, I want to talk about contradiction (no you don’t).
The notion that Jesus would walk up and help someone who didn’t want to be helped, is funny but it isn’t biblical. That just ain’t our Saviour’s MO.
People don’t have to come all the way to Him and truly fathom what they’re getting into, but there has to be some sign or show of faith, curiosity or at least some desire to be made well, before any healing happens in the Gospel.
And I think the same is true today. In Revelation 3:20 Jesus says, ‘I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.’
Jesus knocks on the door in our hearts, but He doesn’t barge in uninvited. He’s a very polite God.
Excessively polite, really.
Even though He knows that He is the only thing that can make us complete, He waits for us to invite Him in. He nudges us, He may give us glimpses to help us point the way, but He never makes a home in our hearts unless He’s wanted there.
And sometimes I wonder why.
* * *
The answer eventually dawns on me when I ponder the scene’s exaggeration.
Jesus fixes Palin the leper, and in one fell swoop, his entire identity is gone. He’s not a leper anymore, so what is he? An ex-leper. And he never gets past that. Rather than standing up and following Jesus, he looks this gift horse in the mouth and whines about it.
His whole life has been filled with anguish, shame and ostracism, and Jesus washes it all away in an instant. In the post-leprosy era, the world is his oyster – he could do anything. And what does he do?
Like I said, first, he complains. Then, he goes back to the same old same old – even while he knows it no longer applies to him. He keeps begging, even though he’s able-bodied (look at the way he’s sproinging around while he converses with Brian). He even toys with the notion of going back to Jesus and asking Him to partially reverse the miracle, so he can credibly coast by on charity, but not be quite as afflicted as before.
If Jesus did foist His perfect will on us before we were ready to ask for it, how many of us would react like the ex-leper? We want Jesus to fix us, to make us the people He made us to be – as long as His plans for us line up with ours.
They very rarely do, by the way.
Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus promise to give us the life we want. He promises to give us the best possible life for us (and He might have a pretty good idea what that looks like, since He made us!), but He never says anything about it being safe, smooth or pleasant. Quite the contrary.
‘Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”’ – Matthew 16:24
Follow him where? To the cross, of course – not necessarily literally, but not necessarily not literally, either. (A Christian dies for his or her faith somewhere in the world every five minutes, according to an article I stumbled upon recently.)
If we choose His path, we know that the final destination will be wondrous, but the journey there might be pretty ugly. And even if it’s not ugly, we can be pretty confident it will take us well outside our comfort zone – and be completely different from our own plans.
As my pastor, Stephen Hambidge, asked in his sermon (Do You Believe in Miracles?) December 11, ‘How ready are we to allow our world to be turned upside-down?’
That’s right – allow.
Unless you’re a leper in a Monty Python movie, Jesus doesn’t heal people who don’t want to be healed. He doesn’t save people who don’t want to be saved. Like I said before, Jesus is big on freedom of choice.
If you haven’t said Yes to Jesus, maybe ask yourself – is it because you’re afraid that nothing will change in your life, or because you’re afraid everything will?
Remember what Narnian Mr. Beaver told Susan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when she was a leery of meeting Aslan (a metaphor for Jesus): “Is he safe?” she asks Mr. Beaver. “Course he isn’t safe,” replies the talking bark-chewer. “But he’s good.”