A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
The Gospel According to Biff
December 30, 2012
Christmas 1 Luke 2:41-52
I know life is like a roll of toilet paper, it goes faster at the end, but the last week has been crazy. Last Sunday Mary was told she was pregnant. The following day at midnight her child was born and today he is twelve years old being a bit of a smart alec, just like any pre-teen boy. According to Matthew he has already had his OE (overseas experience) in Egypt. In two weeks he will be baptised by John and beginning his ministry.
Luke is the only gospel writer to tell us anything about Jesus’ childhood. It seems it wasn’t important to those who followed Jesus or perhaps Jesus was not prone to talk about his childhood. I, personally, wish I knew more. As an answer to that wish a few years back Glynn gave me for Christmas Lamb, the Gospel according to Biff by Christopher Moore. Biff it turns out was Jesus’ BFF, best friend forever, and he fills in the blanks in Jesus’ childhood for us.
The book begins with a quote by Voltaire, “God is a comedian playing to an audience that is afraid to laugh.” From some of the reactions to our billboard, Voltaire might be right, but I thought I’d test that premise out on you this morning by sharing a couple of Biff’s recollections on growing up with Jesus. It has been a busy, somewhat stressful week for many of us and some laughter might do us good.
In the prelude to Biff’s story we find the angel Raziel cleaning out his closet. “Halos and moonbeams were sorted into piles according brightness, a satchel of wrath and scabbards of lightening hung on hooks waiting to be dusted. A wineskin of glory had leaked in the corner and the angel blotted it with a wad of fabric. Each time he turned the cloth a muted chorus rang from the closet, as if he’d clamped the lid down on a pickle jar full Hallelujah Chorus.”
An archangel interrupts his spring-cleaning. He gives him orders to return to earth to resurrect Biff two thousand years after he died so he can write his Gospel. Raziel isn’t too pleased by the assignment but once there is enchanted by TV. He mostly watches soap operas and Spiderman movies, while wondering if God might turn him into Spiderman, as Biff reluctantly writes his gospel under his supervision. Biff is a little scared of the modern world, but discovers he loves pizza. He’s pretty sure Joshua would love it too.
He explains why he calls his friend Joshua. “Jesus is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Yeshua, which is Joshua. Christ is not a last name. It’s Greek for messiah, a Hebrew word meaning anointed. I have no idea what the “H” in Jesus H. Christ stood for. It’s one of the things I should have asked him,” he writes.
He begins his story with when he met Joshua when they were six by the central well in Nazareth, “he was sitting there with a lizard hanging out his mouth. Just the tail end and hind legs were visible…the head and forelegs were halfway down the hatch…’Unclean! Unclean!’ I screamed, pointing at the boy, so my mother would see that I knew the Law, but she ignored me, as did all the other mothers…
“The boy took the lizard from his mouth and handed it to his younger brother…[who] played with it for a while…then he pick up a rock and mashed the creature’s head…he picked it up and hand it back to his brother.
“Into his mouth went the lizard, and before I could accuse, out it came squirming and alive…He handed it back his younger brother, who smote it mightily with the rock, starting or ending the whole process again.
“I watched the lizard die three more times before I said, ‘I want to do that too.’
“The Saviour removed the lizard from his mouth and said, ‘Which part?’”
From this moment on they were inseparable. “While other boys would be playing a round of tease the sheep or kick the Canaanite,” He and Joshua would play at being rabbis. He said it was more fun than it sounds or at least it was until Biff’s mother caught them trying to circumcise his little brother with a sharp rock. They would also play Moses and Pharoah.
“Let my people go,” said Joshua, as Moses.
“You can’t just say, ‘Okay’”
“No, the Lord has hardened your heart against my demands.”
“Why did he do that?”
“I don’t know, he just did. Now, let my people go.”
“Nope.” I crossed my arms and turned away like someone whose heart is hardened.
“Behold as I turn this stick into a snake. Now, let my people go!”
“You can’t just say, ‘Okay’”
“Why? That was a pretty good trick with the stick.”
“But that’s not how it goes.”
“Okay. No way Moses, your people have to stay.”
Joshua waved his staff in my face. “Behold, I will plague you with frogs. They will fill your house and your bedchamber and get on your stuff.”
“So that’s bad. Let my people go, Pharaoh.”
“I sorta like frogs.”
“Dead frogs,” Moses threatened. “Piles of steaming, stinking dead frogs.”
“Oh, in that case, you’d better take your people and go. I have some sphinxes and stuff to build anyway.”
“Dammit, Biff, that’s not how it goes! I have more plagues for you.”
“I want to be Moses.”
“I have the stick.”
I hope I have tempted you to download the book onto your iPad, Kindle or Nook. It is good for us to remember that Jesus would have grown up just like the rest of us. He would’ve had to learn about the world around him. He would have had to have been taught his faith and tested it. He may not have wondered what he’d do when he grew up, since as the first born it would be assumed he would learn his father’s trade. He would have had friends and played childhood games and gotten into trouble or caused it like he did in Luke’s story. When did he learn of his divinity? Who knows? Biff says they didn’t know as kids, although he did have a way with lizards and sticks. No one saw it. Biff says, “To everyone else he seemed like just another child: the same needs and same chance to die before he was grown.” Later, after Joshua is insolent with his father, Joseph will tell Biff who offered to help him in his carpentry shop prepare gifts for the Temple, “You go with Joshua. He needs a friend to teach him to be human. Then I can teach to be a man.”
Perhaps you have a child or grandchild (boy or girl) who is twelve still waiting to discover the divinity within them. It is up to us to see it and help them find it: To nurture and protect it.
Before you know it they will be grown. So make haste to help them find the Jesus H. Christ in them. Do that by teaching them to be human.