Sunday Matinee #23 Life of Brian
"Does anyone else feel like a little... giggle..."
Greetings, programs! Glad to have you aboard for R-Rated Movie Club and for this month’s Coming Attractions. It’s been fun exploring the movies and faith this year and I hope you’ve had a good experience as a subscriber. Your support matters so much to me, thank you. Okay, on to Coming Attractions.
This is a retro post to help me catch up after losing some June and July drafts. No Coming Attractions or other extra bits today, just straight on to Quotes with Notes and a very memorable scene in the Bible and a movie involving someone laughing and getting caught.
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Quotes with Notes
Full Text: Genesis 18:1-15 (Revised Common Lectionary)
3rd Sunday after Pentecost (June 18, 2023)
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Context: God has promised Sarah and Abraham they will have a child and many descendants. But that promise was made long ago and they’ve grown old, far too old to have children as far as they know. When God reinforces this promise through the strangers, Sarah can’t help but laugh.
12 So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I be fruitful?” 13 The Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah shall have a son.” 15 But Sarah denied, saying, “I did not laugh,” for she was afraid. He said, “Yes, you did laugh.”
Life of Brian | 1979 HandMade Films, Python (Monty) Pictures | IMDB
Starring Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones, Michael Palin
Written by Monty Python’s Flying Circus | Directed by Terry Jones
Context: In this satirical send-up of ethics, traditions, and institutions like religion and government, a young Jewish rebel named Brian (Graham Chapman) has been captured by the Romans. A Centurion (John Cleese) and two guards brings him to their leader, Pontius Pilate (Michael Palin), whom has an incredible lisp when he speaks. It’s too funny for the guards, however, who can barely keep a straight face when Pilate says very matter-of-factly that he has a friend named “Biggus Dickus.”
Pontius Pilate: Wait till Biggus Dickus hears of this!
Pontius Pilate: Wight! Take him away!
Centurion: Oh, sir, he –he only...
Pontius Pilate: No, no. I want him fighting wabid, wild animals within a week!
Centurion: Yes, sir. Come on, you.
Centurion takes the Guard away, his laughter increasing.
Pontius Pilate: I will not have my fwiends widiculed by the common soldiewy! …Anybody else feel like a little... giggle... when I mention my fwiend... Biggus… Dickus?
Another guard chuckles. Pilate rushes over to him.
Pontius Pilate: What about you? Do you find it... wisible... when I say the name... 'Biggus'...
Guard #2: Squeaks with a chuckle, shaking with pursed lips.
Pontius Pilate: ... Dickus?
The two guards flanking Brian chuckle. Pilate rushes over to them.
Pontius Pilate: He has a wife, you know. You know what she's called? She's called... 'Incontinentia'... Incontinentia Buttocks.
The guards can’t keep it together. They all burst out laughing.
Pontius Pilate: Stop! What is all this?!
Laughter is one of my favorite things. It just is. The world needs more laughter, if you ask me. There isn’t an incredible lot of moments depicting laughter in scripture, though it’s there if you read between the lines. Bruce Marchiano plays a very playful, smiling, laughing Jesus in the film, The Gospel of Matthew, that is a line-for-line telling of that book of the Bible. Here’s a 50-second example:
Sarah and Abraham are old now. They’ve been promised a son, but the years have made it impossible. Three strangers come to their tent and they offer hospitality. One of them says to Abraham that your wife will have a son. Sarah laughs to herself. But it’s not just to herself. If anyone can hear you snickering under your breath, it’s God. God asks Abraham why she laughed and Sarah answers for herself: “I did not laugh.” God says, “Oh yes, you did laugh.”
The text says Sarah denied laughing because she was afraid. If I do some very, very basic work with the Ancient Hebrew here, the likely definition of the word used for afraid is, well, “afraid.” She denied it because she was scared. That’s the primary definition for yare’ (yaw-ray’) and this passage is an example under that definition. The second definition is to stand in awe, while the third is fear and reverence and honor. Again, I’m being very basic here and I don’t want to say we can just mix all of the definitions into one here to help us understand Sarah’s motivations for denying laughing at the notion of becoming pregnant in her advanced age.
Yes, when I read all of those, I can’t help but wonder if the denial is about fear (nobody wants to be caught by the one they’re laughing at, especially if it’s God!), and that it is about awe (the very notion that this could happen is overwhelming), and that it is about reverence (because if anyone could make this happen, it’s God). Most times, when I read about someone having fear in the Bible, I think about the feelings I get on a rollercoaster, a simultaneous mix of dread-like fear and adrenaline-fueled excitement. Perhaps that is the best mixed emotion one has when encountering the holy.
Those poor guards. Who knows how many times they’ve had to keep a straight face around Pontius Pilate. Michael Palin plays him with an exaggerated lisp in Life of Brian. Not, I think, to make fun of people with a lisp but to poke fun at empire and putting on airs and how one actually commands respect. Pilate doesn’t command respect; he uses fear. Those guards all know if they step out of line, it’s off to the lion’s den.
But they can’t help it. Pilate’s complete lack of awareness of what he’s saying and how he’s saying it is too much to keep quiet. Even if they will die a terrible death, out comes the laughter. And when they’re confronted? They’re laughing too hard to even deny it!
Have you ever had trouble keeping your laughter in check? Have you been caught (and called out for) laughing? I’ve had nervous laughter before, far too many times to count. I’ve definitely tried to suppress laughter when something struck me as funny at inopportune moments or inappropriate venues. I think it happens to most of us. When it does, I hope that 1. God doesn’t call you out on it, and 2. nobody sends you to the pit filled with lions.
That does it, Dear Reader, we’ll see you next time. Thank you for your patience as I play a little game of catch-up with lost posts on my end. May you be open to the wonder that is around you and may it inspire you to live with generosity and kindness. And to today’s preachers, may gathering for worship with your community encourage you in your own personal faith journey. God’s peace and good movies to you!