In the wonderful, wacky, endlessly watchable world of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, Barney Fife plays a most prominent role: he’s Sheriff Andy’s deputy and best friend as well as the character who steals just about every scene he appears in (so he’s given lots of opportunities to do just that).
In addition to all the things that raise Barney's status, he's also the character least likely to get things right. Just about every time Barn puts himself out there to show he knows something, we get to watch in agonizing, hilarious and systematic fashion how completely off the mark he actually is.
As the Comic Lens discussed earlier, Barney has a striking (and hilarious!) counterpart in the Bible: St. Peter. Peter is Jesus’ right hand disciple, best friend, and often the go-to “human” responder to the Gospel story’s supernatural events.
And, most of the time, try as he might, he doesn’t get it right.
The rich reading in Acts 2 that tells the story of “Pentecost”, when the Holy Spirit comes upon and into Jesus' followers igniting in them the ability to speak passionately about God and God’s power in a variety of unique-sounding foreign languages, includes, as a part, another good – great! – blooper by Peter.
In response to the mind-blowing events (literally and figuratively) that are happening all around them, some of the Jerusalemite elite respond with honest curiosity and alarm, wondering “What is going on?”; others shut down and get snarky, spitting a clever jab at the phrase Jesus used to describe his teaching that couldn't be poured into the “old wine skins” of then-calcified Temple establishment.
“They are filled with new wine!” is the snarky response (“Yeah, and this is what the 'new wine' leads to!" those snarksters continue, at least silently, "Dumb Galilean hicks yammering all over the place like a bunch of babbling drunks! Har har har har….”)
We’re told next that Peter rises to the occasion, lifts up his voice and speaks. Mind you, this is the same man who, when witnessing Jesus' transfiguration on top of Mt. Tabor awhile back, immediately turned to create honorary shrines for glowing Jesus and special guest stars glowing Moses & Elijah and God had to yell “STOP IT JUST SIT DOWN AND JUST LISTEN TO HIM!!!” to get him to focus as he ought. This is the same man who, the minute after he properly identified Jesus as the Messiah and received Jesus' blessing to be the bedrock of His new Church, told Jesus He couldn't possibly be correct when He said He must die on a cross, and Jesus got so upset He called him "Satan." As Peter now prepares to address the Pentecost looky-lou's we expect Peter, once again, like a Barney, to blow it.
I can’t help but imagine Peter, in Barney-esque fashion, standing up before that crowd with a nervous swagger, tugging at the belt of his tunic as if it were a holster, contorting his mouth to look like at any time it will shoot bullets instead of words (more than 1!), and proceeding:
“Men of Judea, and all residents of Jerusalem. Listen to what I have to say." (He’s getting very authoritative now, which he should, since he’s the bedrock of Christ’s church, and a Barney….)
"These men aren’t drunk as you suppose....." (Of course not! We know they’re looking and acting the way they do because they're filled with the Spirit! But that’s not what Peter says.)
“No, these men aren’t drunk...for it is only nine o’clock in the morning!”
WHAAT? That’s like Peter saying, “These men couldn't be wife beaters; they’re not even married!”
Instead of being clear and convincing, he ends up being oblivious and insulting.
Fortunately, Peter gets a second chance and gets it beautifully right as he continues orating about how the time has come for Joel's prophecy to be fulfilled. A new age has dawned where people of all ages, sexes, races, backgrounds and classes are going to be called and equipped to be God’s prophets and Kingdom-bringers (and “the Church”).
Such knowing eloquence is not unlike Barney's, at a moment when it REALLY counts:
There are a couple of reasons, I believe, that the glorious story of Pentecost, the story of the "Church's Birthday", includes this (another) funny misstatement by Peter.
For one thing, like so much of the humor of the Bible, it’s there to add zip and delight to the goings-on, and make the Church's birthday story that much more fun to retell to future generations.
For another thing, and more importantly, by showing Peter here, as elsewhere, as a bit of a clown, a fool, a consistently “low” character, it conveys a preeminent message of the Bible: God’s dream is realized not by the bigwigs with the famous names, but through regular people, filled with the Spirit.
Finally, letting ourselves (especially we "church leaders") experience Barnie as a bit of a boob, especially at Pentecost, helps us laugh at ourselves in our well-intentioned but often foolish attempts to show how competently we're in control. It's always good to be able to remember the times when ecclesial leaderhship is most effective is when it's putting the spotlight on the gifts of the laity....