Whether you're a religious person or not, you just may find that the comedy of “The Andy Griffith Show” is the best ever.
Bonus for me, it provides such great fodder for discussion on the comedy of the Bible. Especially the comedy of the Gospels. There is a very popular scripture-study series for Christian congregations based on “The Andy Griffith Show.” I have yet to familiarize myself with it - I know…top of the Comic Lens “To Do” list! In the meantime, may I say if the episode “The Big House” is not included in the curriculum, it most certainly should be!
Here is the episode in all its glory.
Here’s a choice 60-second clip, if you’re short on time.
And here’s a good episode synposis, posted by “garykmcd” on the "The Big House" IMDB page:
When the State police arrest two of four bank robbers, they decide to keep them in Mayberry jail. Andy is to join the search for the remaining two criminals and agrees with Barney's suggestion that they get a third man working for them but without consulting him, Barney hires Gomer. Andy isn't convinced they can do the job but gives in to Barney's assurances that all will be okay. In fact, the two experienced criminals have Barney right where they want him and it's only thanks to Andy that keeps them from escaping - twice! When the State police set a trap for the two remaining criminals, Barney puts his foot in it again when he arrests them..
Don Knotts remains the best (or at least one of the top three!) examples of comic officiousness. His need to have “the law” taken seriously is always so over the top it not only makes him look foolish, but it usually completely undermines what he most wants to do, which is uphold the law.
While I have discussed previously in this blog how Barney is the perfect contemporary shoe-in for St. Peter (at least the way the gospels usually portray him), yesterday’s lectionary reading, Mark 2:23-27, shows us how he works very well for appreciating the Pharisees, too!
In this passage, we’re told Jesus and his disciples are going through the fields on the sabbath, and the disciples are picking off heads of grain and eating them. The Pharisees see what’s going on and condemn Jesus and his disciples for this illegal behavior, and Jesus responds with a scripture story about the time David and his companions found themselves hungry and at the Temple, before the chief priest, Abiathar. David was able to easily convince Abiathar to share the bread of the Presence, otherwise never allowed to anyone but priests for consumption. Apparently, the Pharisees have nothing to retort, and the scene apparently ends with Jesus reminding the Pharisees, “The Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for Sabbath.”
There are a couple of choice Barney-esque moments (at least!) in this scene.
First, there’s the image of the Pharisees, lying in wait in the fields, with every fiber of their bodies tensed to pounce the moment they see Jesus and his disciples lifting one finger incorrectly to corrupt the Sabbath. Clearly they don’t get how ridiculous they look! After all, is Sabbath not to be a day of rest, when all work is verboten…even lying in wait in the fields with every fiber of your body tensed? Aren’t all good and faithful Israelites to be observing God’s Command to Honor the Sabbath by spending it at home with family or at the Temple, worshiping God and studying His Word? The field is a mighty strange place to be found, come Sabbath Day….
Unless, perhaps, you’re Jesus and his disciples, who, “have no place to lie their heads”….
Getting to imagine the disconnect here is worth more than a thousand words of explanation in the text. And invites several good chuckles. Just like a great Barney episode!!
Secondly, there’s the scripture story Jesus uses for his defense that the Pharisees apparently unhesitatingly accept.
If you turn to 1 Samuel 21, you'll find the story that Jesus is apparently regaling in Mark 2. However, you will note several details are askew. The name of the chief priest, for example. In 1 Samuel 21 he is Ahimelech, Abiathar’s father. Also, David comes to Ahmilelch on his own, not with other men. In fact, the chief priest wonders right from the first why David is solo, and David explains he’s on a super secret mission and had to leave them back at camp. The truth is, David is on his own and on the lamb; King Saul is hunting him down to kill him, and if David tells Ahimelech the truth the hunted might very well get turned over to the hunter. David is hungry and talks the Ahimalech into giving him some Bread of the Presence, five loaves of it in fact, since it’s for himself and his coterie. (Of course, there is no coterie, so what David has done is scammed the chief priest for extra victuals for the road. Clever guy, that David!)
Be that as it may, Jesus leaves out most of the details of this trickster tale and what he does communicate to the Pharisees is incorrect. Most scholars can’t figure out why the errors; perhaps Jesus made a mistake (the horror!!) or the scribe copying the Mark 2 story made a mistake (couldn't someone double-check with the 1 Samuel story and get things straight??). Some scholars twist their brains into pretzels to try and prove how both of these texts actually jibe.
I think Jesus intentionally throws out botched information, anticipating that the Pharisees won’t catch it, despite…actually because of…their ridiculous paranoia about interpreting and following the dictates of scripture to a T. They no longer have the capacity to recognize Jesus flagrant misapplication of the text and, hence, get what they really want: Jesus’ hide. Like the goings-on of a great Barney episode, Jesus humorously shows the Pharisees to be the officious boobs they really are.
And, like a great Barney episode, how officious boobery gets the best of all of us, unless, perhaps, we can see in the comic examples before us the chance to laugh at our own tendencies in this arena. And that the world is really a messy, wonderful reality of ever-undulating law AND grace that we best navigate with honesty, humility and even more humor!