My 17 year old son, Jeremy, is reading Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales for school. As part of an assignment on that book, he had to write a paper on humor, specifically about how Matthew used Peter in a humorous way (specifically ironic humor) in Matthew 16 and Matthew 26. Many of his classmates could not understand the irony in these passages as humor.
After thinking about this, Jeremy decided that the problem was the context. Since the context of Matthew 16 and Matthew 26 was so serious, it was difficult to recognize the irony as a type of humor. So, Jeremy retold the stories in a way that would lighten the mood. In this way, he was hoping that his classmates would better recognize the humor.
Here is his paper. What do you think?
What makes the character of Jesusâ€™ disciple Peter humorous (Matthew 16:17-23, 26:34)?
Matthew 16 says something like this: It was late one night, and Jesus and Peter were sitting on the couch just chilling. There were a few other guys there too, ten or eleven; all of them just listening to Jesus and thinking about how cool this guy was. Then Jesus said, â€œSo, boys, who do you think I am?â€
Peter immediately said, â€œPshh, youâ€™re like Godâ€™s son, Jesus. Youâ€™re the coolest. You know like everything!â€
A few seconds went by, and Jesus looked up at Peter and said, â€œYouâ€™re pretty cool yourself, Peter, and because you said this Iâ€™m going to make you my right hand man! Iâ€™m going to give you like the master key to the heavens, and youâ€™ll be livinâ€™ like a king!â€ And with that Jesus gave Peter a big hug. â€œItâ€™s just too bad Iâ€™m going to be killed pretty soon,â€ Jesus said in somewhat of a regretful tone.
Peter jumped up from the couch and exclaimed, â€œJesus! Why do you always have to be such a downer? We ainâ€™t never gonna let someone hurt you. And if they tryâ€¦theyâ€™re gonna have to get through ME first!â€ All the other guys there shook their heads in agreement.
â€œPeter, Peter, Peter, you are such a funny guy, but you still donâ€™t understand yet,â€ Jesus said with a smile on his face.
Matthew 26, if Iâ€™m remembering correctly, goes something like: â€œLetâ€™s play â€˜LETâ€™S TRY NOT TO DENY CHRIST,â€™â€ Jesus shouted in unison with the crowd around him. â€œSo this is a game show where you try not to deny meâ€¦Christ! You have three lives. Each time you deny me you loose a life! And with each loss of a life you loose $150,000,000! The game is over when the roster crows! Now letâ€™s meet our first contestantâ€¦Simon Peter are you ready to play?â€
â€œIâ€™m ready Lord. I would die before I deny you!â€
â€œOk Peterâ€¦get readyâ€¦get setâ€¦GO!â€
Peter ran into a courtyard. Everything was quiet at first, but then, all of a sudden, there was a little girl, and she asked, â€œHey, donâ€™t you know Christ?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know who youâ€™re talking about,â€ Peter said without thinking.
The crowed booed as Jesus announced over the intercom â€œThere goes one life and $150,000,000!â€
Peter got himself back together, walked over to the gateway, and prepared for the next round to begin. Without warning the young girl was there again, this time yelling, â€œI saw you before with Jesus of Nazareth.â€
This time Peter shouted, â€œI promise I donâ€™t know him!â€
â€œIt is not looking good for Peter. Two lives down and there goes another $150,000,000. You have one try left.â€ Jesus said.
Peter was beginning to sweat. The last round would be the hardest. He watched as a whole crowed of people approached him all yelling, â€œYou must know him! We all saw you!â€
Then Peter cracked. He was yelling and screaming, â€œI donâ€™t know him!â€ He began swearing and many in the audience gasped. They thought that he would soon become violent. Then there were three loud roster crows. The game was over.
Jesus walked out on the floor and shook Peterâ€™s hand firmly, saying â€œBetter luck next time, Peter. Well letâ€™s meet our next contestant!â€
So this is obviously not really Scripture, and contains a different type of humor, but I want to use these two stories to show the humor in the passages and then also show the differences between the text that I have given and the Scriptures. In both of these passages Peter is shown as being very ironic. First he admits the truth of Jesus, saying that he is the Son of God, and then instantly tells Christ that he doesnâ€™t know what is going to happen. (Jesus also uses a play on words, saying that Peter would be a rock.) In the second passage Peter is doing the same thing. Peter tells Christ that there is no way he would ever deny him, even though Jesus insisted that he would. This shows a lack of faith that Peter has. He says that Christ is the Son of God, but his actions show a grave lack of trust and faith. Many of Chaucerâ€™s characters (i.e. the Monk) in The Canterbury Tails show this same type of ironic humor. Monks are not generally allowed to own land but the Monk in the story raves about his home outside the monastery.
The big difference I see between my stories and the Scripture is the context in which the ironic humor is found. This humor could also be seen as hypocrisy. In the context in which I wrote my story, Jesusâ€™ responses and attitude toward Peterâ€™s hypocrisy is very casual. This is because they were placed in a casual setting. On the other hand in the Scriptures Jesus is shown to deal very harshly with Peter’s hypocrisy. This is because of what is at stake. It is not a casual time or place. Similarly, Chaucer and his fictional character, the Host, do not find their companions to be very humorous. So perhaps those who are present cannot appreciate ironic humor, but instead those who already have knowledge of the ending to the story can enjoy the ironic humor.