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Hold on, Jesus. Let’s just brainstorm that idea

27 August 2021

The sitcom writer James Cary reveals how a lost chapter of John foreshadows an Anglican love of sticky notes


IN 2015, I had the honour of being elected to represent the diocese of Bath & Wells at the General Synod. As a result, for five years I was automatically an ex officio member of my deanery and diocesan synods. Put simply, I go to a lot of meetings about church that technically aren’t actually church.

Maybe it’s a denominational thing, but I will say this: Anglicans love sticky notes. If you’re running a meeting and worried that it’s going to be boring, break the room into groups and hand out sticky notes. Have people brainstorm ideas for the latest iteration of the Deanery Mission Strategy or Diocesan Community Engagement Initiative.

It soaks up half an hour. Everyone writes things on sticky notes, which are then placed on flip charts, collected up, and never seen again. This happens so often, and is done with such conviction that it isn’t a massive waste of time or meeting filler that I’ve assumed it must be commanded by a bit of scripture I haven’t read for a long time.

Maybe it’s hanging around at the end of 2 Chronicles, where Hezekiah brainstorms ideas for fixing up the temple. Maybe it’s commanded in Jude’s letter — which is so weird, no one ever reads past verse 9, in which we’re told the Archangel Michael argues with the devil about the body of Moses (I kid you not). But I checked both of those places and it’s not there.

Then I did some digging and found some early drafts of John’s Gospel — which in turn explain why there is no Sending Out of the Twelve or the Seventy that we find in the other Gospels. In fact, John doesn’t even list the twelve disciples.

This is what I found: Earlier manuscripts of John include the following, which is omitted from later, more authoritative versions.

NOW after these things, the Lord also appointed seventy others, and sent them two by two ahead of him into every city and place where he was about to come. Then he said to them, “The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the labourers are few. Pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest, that he may send out labourers into his harvest.

Go your ways. Behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry no purse, nor wallet, nor sandals. Greet no one on the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’”

The seventy went on their way, and immediately called another meeting. Lucius, one of the seventy, said, “Eusebius and I aren’t quite clear on the plan here. Don’t get me wrong. We’re excited, but I really think we could benefit from a clearer mission statement. Can we brainstorm a few ideas?”

“In a moment,” said Eusebius, “I’m going to ask everyone to take some sticky notes and write down some ideas, and then we can stick them onto this olive tree and talk about how they make us feel. No right or wrong answers.”

“Our mission statement needs to be seriously punchy,” said Lucius. “I mean, say what you like about the guy, King Herod’s got a really clear mission statement.”

“What, ‘Kill them. Kill them all’?” said Peter.

“Yeah,” said Lucius. “I mean, it’s a bit ‘killy’ for us. But there’s good repetition. It’s only five words. You’ve got to admit it’s snappy.”

“The temple’s slogan is hopeless,” said Simon the Zealot. “I can’t even remember it. Something about being in the community, good rates on money-changing, and humanely incinerating animals. I forget the exact details.”

“Stop!” said Peter. “This is insane. Were you not listening to Jesus earlier?”

“Actually, I was getting the sticky notes,” said Lucius.

“And I was getting these highlighters,” said Eusebius, with great joy.

“Ooh, we’ve got highlighters,” said the disciples. And there was much excitement.
But then Peter stood up and said, “How about this: ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’?”

“Nah, too vague,” said Lucius. “‘All nations’? I mean, what does that even mean?”

“And the concept of a nation state is pretty arbitrary given a united Europe under the Romans,” said Andrew.

“It won’t last,” said Simon the Zealot.

“Also, it’s strategic overwhelm,” said Lucius. “Go and make disciples of all nations”? How are the seventy of us going to do that? It’s just not going to happen. It needs to be real to people individually.”

“Ooh, ooh, ooh!” said Thaddeus. “We should tell people that thing Jesus said. When he was talking to Nicodemus.”

“Er, ‘You must be born again’?” said the disciple whom Jesus loved.

“No, not that. People really won’t like the phrase ‘born again’,” said Thaddeus. “I was thinking about the next bit. After the weird thing about the snake being lifted up.”

“‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life?’” said John.

“Boom,” said Thaddeus. “Love that. You could put that on a T-shirt. Mugs. In fact, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to put it on a sign and hold it up next time I go and watch the gladiators.”

“Ooh, great idea,” said Philip. “Except you can’t get that all on a sign.”

“It’s OK,” said Thaddeus. “I’ll just put a reference to it so people can go away and look it up for themselves. In this book of yours, John, what’s it going to be? Chapter 3-ish?”

“Yeah, about that,” said John. “Maybe verse 16. Give or take.”

“Well, that sounds like a plan,” said Lucius. “Anything else?”

“How about some Christian symbol on the back of a chariot?”

Then Philip said, “Earlier, when Jesus said we have to say stuff like ‘Peace be to this house’, I worry about being a bit preachy. Wouldn’t it be better to not say anything? You know, preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words?”

“Ooh, yes,” said Lucius. “I like that.”

“Right. I have to step in here. Jesus uses words,” said Peter.

“Yup. He definitely uses words,” said John.
Matthew agreed.

“I hear you,” said Lucius.

“Yes. Because I used words,” said Peter.

“Yes, but I can tell from your demeanour exactly what you mean,” said Lucius. “You look like you want to punch me in the face.”

“I do,” said Peter. “And I will. And if necessary use fists.”

“Sure,” said Lucius, “but I don’t think you really understand how mission works these days?”

“It sounds to me,” said Peter, “like you just don’t want to tell people about Jesus.”

“Anyone can just tell people about Jesus,” said Lucius.

“Apparently not,” said Peter. “You’d rather rely exclusively on actions.”

“On that,” said Barnabas, “Clement and I have worked out some really powerful mime which I reckon could be very effective. So, when Jesus tells us to enter a house, is he ruling out street theatre?”

Peter replied, “Jesus said to not greet anyone on the road. So . . .”

“But Barnabas and Clement have worked really hard on this,” said Lucius, “and I think they should be given a chance to do their thing.”

“No,” said Peter. “You heard Jesus. Enter a house and say, ‘Peace be to this house,’ and . . . ”

“How do we feel about wristbands?” said Lucius. “I’m thinking WWJD. What Would Jesus Do?”

“No,” said Peter. “Not, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ Make some wristbands that say DWJS. Do What Jesus Says. Repent. Believe. Tell people about the Kingdom of God. Make disciples of all nations.”

“Okay. Compromise,” said Lucius. “Have a look at the street theatre and see what you think.”

And immediately, Barnabas and Clement did their mime. And it was awful.

Lucius said, “It’s pretty weird that the seventy aren’t mentioned in the rest of the New Testament. And their names not recorded.” “I think we now know why,” said Peter.

Lucius said, “Where’s Jesus gone?” Jesus had gone to a remote place. Alone. To pray. A lot.

This is not the word of the Lord.

Thanks be to God.

This is an edited extract from
The Gospel According to a Sitcom Writer by James Cary, published by SPCK at £10.99 (Church Times Bookshop £9.89); 978-0-281-08563-7.

Listen to an interview with James Cary on the Church Times Podcast.


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