The Gospel According To A Sitcom Writer
And how easy it is to forget that the Ascension is quite funny.
In this article, I give you a taste of what to expect in my new book, The Gospel According To A Sitcom Writer, out on June 17th from SPCK.
When you hear the gospels read well out loud by someone who knows what they’re doing, and what they’re reading, one thing you’ll also be surprised by is how funny the gospels are. In fact, if you don’t find any of it funny, you’re not taking it seriously. That’s the overall thrust of my new book.
Since Ascension Day is coming, let’s look at the first chapter of the book in which we see this was a truly unexpected and fairly comic event - if you’re not expecting it to happen.
Have you considered how odd it is that Jesus ascends into heaven? And don’t you think the disciples at the time would have thought so? Sometimes, the Gospels record the reactions of the disciples to extraordinary events, but not here. So my version does. We begin at the end of the Gospel According to Matthew:
But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had sent them. When they saw him, they bowed down to him; but some doubted. Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teach- ing them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’
Early manuscripts do not include the following
After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him.
And Peter said, ‘Well, that was weird.’
And the disciples agreed. It was weird.
But John said, ‘Did not our Lord say, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father”?’
And Peter said, ‘Did he?’
And John said, ‘Yes. He did. And it’s going into my book.’
‘Wow,’ said Peter. ‘Jesus has been gone ten seconds and you’re already thinking about book deals.’
And John said, ‘I will write it so anyone who reads it may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing they may have life in his name.’
And Peter said, ‘Urgh, well, if you put it like that, I suppose it’s fine.’
And the disciples remained on the Mount of Olives singing hymns and praising God.
Then Thomas said, ‘I doubted, but now I believe.’
And Peter said, ‘Yes. You doubted. And now you believe.’
Thomas said, ‘Do you think anyone will, you know, remember that “incident”?’
‘“Incident”?’ said Peter.
‘You know,’ said Thomas, ‘in the locked room?’
‘No,’ said the disciples. ‘Hardly at all. Completely understandable. Jesus came back. You weren’t there. You didn’t believe us. Fingers in wounds. Perfectly natural.’
‘Oh good,’ said Thomas with great relief. ‘I’d hate for three years of exemplary service as a disciple and a possible future as an apostle to be completely ruined forever because of one week-long crisis of faith.’
‘Forget about it,’ said James. ‘It’s not going to happen.’
Then John spoke. ‘That said, it does provide a useful set-piece scene that helps with the overall resurrection narrative. It certainly adds credibility to the account.’
‘Oh great,’ said Thomas.
‘I haven’t decided whether to use it or not,’ said John.
‘If you stitch me up,’ said Thomas, ‘and I’m referred to as unbelieving Thomas, or faithless Thomas-’
‘What about doubting Thomas?’ said James.
‘Ooh, that’s good,’ said John.
‘Not that I’m definitely using that in my book. Everything’s very much up for grabs.’
‘Why am I the doubting one?’ said Thomas. ‘Peter denied Jesus three times to a little girl.’
‘She wasn’t that little,’ said Peter.
‘Should have kept your head down,’ came a voice from the back.
‘And you are?’ asked Peter.
‘Bartholomew,’ said Bartholomew.
‘Bartholomew?’ said Peter.
‘Bartholomew!’ said Bartholomew.
‘I’m a disciple.’
‘Yeah. In Mark. Look it up. I just don’t say much.’
‘Nor me,’ said Thaddeus.
‘Argh!’ said Peter. ‘Where did you come from?’
‘Don’t say anything and people will think you’re clever,’ said Thaddeus. ‘That’s my motto.’
‘Chin up,’ said Peter. ‘Did not our Lord himself say, “There’s no such thing as bad publicity”?’
‘No!’ said Thomas.
‘Well, remember the parable that Jesus told,’ said Peter. ‘How does it go? Ah yes, a king went on a long journey and he left three men to work in his vineyard. Or was it a winepress? That’s it, the son fell in the wine-press. No, that’s not right. Hang on. Bear with.’
‘Ooh! I’ve got one,’ said Bartholomew. ‘A Pharisee, a priest and a Samaritan walk into a bar . . .’
‘You see? This is why you should keep your mouth shut!’ said Thaddeus.
‘This isn’t helping!’ said Thomas.
Two men dressed in white stood beside them. They didn’t like to interrupt. One said to the other, ‘Jesus wants them to make disciples of all nations? Good luck with that.’ They walked away, shaking their heads.
This is not the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God
Next time, I’ll look at why you should pre-order the book directly from me rather than Amazon if you’re in the UK. But here are two reasons right now. The copies from me are signed. And I make more money this way, so you’re supporting me and this weekly column. And you get invited to the virtual launch. So, erm, if you wouldn’t mind…
Pre-orders will be shipped around 17th June.