Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, by Christopher Moore.
Why everyone in the world should read this book:
This book accomplishes something that not many authors/filmmakers attempt: an actual characterization of Jesus as, you know, a *character.* This was one of my top complaints about “The Passion” (and that’s saying something, because I had a lot of complaints): Gibson did little to actually tell us who his Jesus was. I felt something when they drove the nails through his wrists, sure. It’s hard not to be moved by the sheer amount of blood. But I didn’t care about Jesus as a person. And usually when I read the Gospels, I don’t read them as story anymore, but as work material, as sermon fodder. I care about Jesus as a teacher, a leader, a Savior, even. But not a person. It’s been a long time since I cried at the crucifixion scene. “Godspell” can get me every once and a while–now there’s a characterization of Jesus. But that’s the music too.
My chest got all tight as Moore took his character, this funny, quirky, horny, flawed, struggling young man Joshua, through the events of his last week. Biff’s sole description of the actual crucifixion: “I turned away, but even from a thousand yards I could hear him screaming as they drove the nails.” speaks louder than all the fake blood Mel could ever muster. And it brought tears to my eyes, which hasn’t happened in a long time. I cared about Josh as a person, and about his friends, especially Biff and the wonderfully characterized Maggie (Mary of Magdala). And with all the bodily function humor and all the uses of f*ck imaginable, it was still a beautifully reverent rendering of who Jesus might have been. The last supper scene should replace the actual words of institution in worship; it’s that good in some ways.
So what would it be like, every now and then, to let–to encourage–the people in the pews to see Jesus as a person? What would it be like to have his character develop as it does in a novel, divorced from the high theology of the church? Why can’t we just let Matthew tell us a story he heard, and let that person move us, and not worry this time about what it means for him to move us as a person and not a god? What if we wept for Jesus’ death, not because we feel the weight of our sin upon him, not because we think we should theologically, but because we love that quirky guy Joshua and his humor and kindness and patience and love of others, and like his friends we can’t stand the horrible unfairness of a world that kills him for whatever their reasons? I use storytelling and parable a lot in preaching, but I shy away from telling tales about Jesus, from making him the sappy catch-story at the beginning or end of the story. Why? I figure people get it, people are as moved by his life and death as they are going to be, and driving it home focuses more on guilt than anything else. Too many times I have heard the “Jesus died for you, you miserable useless sinner!” sermon, or the Passion play emotionalism designed to make me feel guilty or bad or sad, because then I’d be feeling *something*, but it’s not really moving any more. It’s just that, just emotionalism, not true emotion.
What if we step back from that? What if we tell a story about a wonderful man and his friends and how much they loved him, and how scared and devastated they were to lose him? What if we did some real character development, so that by Friday night of Holy Week, people cried not out of guilt or sentimentalism or emotional manipulation, but because they loved the Jesus they had come to know the way one cries at the end of a movie where the hero dies? In short, what would it be like if my Good Friday service this year was a reading from the Gospel According to Biff?
That may be a joke; I’m not sure. How far can I go to make Jesus human, real, a person to relate to and care about? I don’t mean read the part about Bart learning to lick his own balls (although I could barely breathe for laughing), or Biff’s exploits with harlots as he tried to describe sin to his pure friend. But what about telling the story like someone there, someone who loved him and was loved by him, not in the “Jesus loves me this I know” way, but in the way we all love and admire our dear friends and grieve for their pain and loss?
Anyway, the book is also very funny, which is what most people say about it, rather than dwelling on the parts that made me cry. And my favorite line about the humor comes from the author’s afterward: “This story is not and never was meant to challenge anyone’s faith; however, if one’s faith can be shaken by stories in a humorous novel, one may have a bit more praying to do.”
Indeed. Everyone should read this book.