Of all the many many comic characters out there, I would say none of them is better, or funnier, than Barney Fife. And I'm not alone: in the seven years Don Knotts portrayed Barney on The Andy Griffith Show (1960-7) he won the Emmy Award for Best Support Actor five times. Almost every year!
As we continue to explore the idea that the Bible was intended as a comedy, fashioned to make people laugh, it would certainly follow that there would be a "Barney"-type embedded somewhere in the text, engendering an endless stream of award-worthy guffaws pretty much wherever he goes.
And I'm happy to say, there is a Barney is in our Bible! Prominently portrayed, even! Put on your comic lenses and you just might see that it's….
Yes, it's St. Peter, Jesus’ lead disciple and "bedrock" of Christ's Church! The one from whom all Christ-selected leadership descends, or is at least supposed to!
There are so many ways Barney and Peter are alike, why the comparison works.
For one thing, they're both from "the sticks." Mayberry is a "hick" town far from the sophistication of Raleigh (especially in eyes of the Raleighites). Same is true for the Galilee and its relationship to Jerusalem.
Also, Barney and Peter are both best friends with the wise, warm, loving and profoundly and uniquely gifted leader of their community.
Also also, Barney and Peter are both impetuous, overly-zealous and overly-officious, misguided in their enthusiasm and bravado…and incredibly well-intentioned and sincere. Even though both make life difficult-to-miserable for their best friend/community leader, even though each often unintentionally threatens to sabotage all that their best friend/leader is doing to bring heaven to earth, neither will ever be abandoned, condemned, or unloved. Neither Peter nor Barney will never even lose their status as "best friend."
Here's a classic scene depicting everything I'm talking about, at least as Barney's concerned. (It's fun and quite informative, too, to watch this scene as an allegory about Jesus and Peter and, by extension, the Church....)
It adds so much light, liveliness, heart, and, I think, surprising clarity as to what the biblical scenes between Jesus and Peter are trying to communicate, if we imagine they're between Andy and Barney.
For example, consider the scene in John 13 where Jesus is washing the disciples feet. At first, Peter balks at the thought of having Jesus stoop to such a thing. Then Jesus says, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." So Peter pipes up with an overly enthusiastic and misguided, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Seeing Peter speak up as Barney, I can only see him then starting to nervously and quickly undress, about to take it all off, when Jesus shakes his head, half-smiles and half-grimaces, puts his arm out to get Peter to "nip it!" ( :) ) to save everyone the embarrassment of seeing his bumbling best friend naked. Then, in a half-exasperated, half-smiling way Jesus says (in Andy's voice), "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet." There's more head shaking, half-exasperated and half-smiling looks from Jesus, and more confused embarrassment on the part of Peter, as we all laugh at how hard Peter is trying to get it, even as he still really doesn't.
Or consider the scene in Matthew 14, when the disciples are out on the stormy Galilean sea and Peter has courageously chosen to walk out on water and meet Jesus, his friend and superior, and he's got it! He's walking on water through faith! Picturing Barney in the role, I see the hugest beaming smile on Peter's face. He might even assume an "awe-shucks" look as he salutes his pal Jesus who is now but a few feet away. Peter's chest puffs up a little as he remembers he's the one Jesus designated as leader, so his job is to show the other disciples how it's done. A huge wave then suddenly comes up and you see Peter's rubbery face completely shift to terror and his eyes bug-out like they're going to pop. The wave submerges him momentarily and then his head pops back up again. Now Peter's long and completely straight hair is stuck all across his face as he cries in a panic, "Lord save me!" flailing around like a lost little kid. Jesus walks up and offers a hand with gentle laughter and knowing smile. "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" His voice almost sounds like he's teasing. Peter, now overly peeved and embarrassed, and with eyes rolling up in his head, angrily just wants Jesus to pull him out so he can dry his clothes and move on to whatever's next. When the disciples see how kind and understanding Jesus has been with Peter, always the loose cannon of the bunch, and they say, "Truly you are the Son of God."
It's very helpful and healing to embrace the Andy-Barney relationship as the kind Jesus sees and seeks with us, the descendants of Peter. With His Church. With the leaders of His Church.
It's pretty amazing to consider an Andy-Barney-type relationship is the one the Bible wants us to understand. So funny, knowing, most-gracious and, when we live into our role, maybe even award-winning!
May the Lord make Don Knotts of us all.....