The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

A Christ- worshipping agnostic

with one comment

Over at the excellent God’s Politics, Ryan Rodrick Beiler quotes recently-deceased Kurt Vonnegut who, for reasons un-explained, gave a sermon on Palm Sunday in 1980. I excerpt the excerpt, touched by his tender heart:

Kurt VonnegutI am enchanted by the Sermon on the Mount. Being merciful, it seems to me, is the only good idea we have received so far. Perhaps we will get another idea that good by and by – and then we will have two good ideas. …

I read from the Revised Standard Bible rather than the King James, because it is easier for me to understand. Also, I will argue afterward that Jesus was only joking, and it is impossible to joke in King James English. The funniest joke in the world, if told in King James English, is doomed to sound like Charlton Heston… And let us remember, too, that in translations jokes are commonly the first things to go.

I would like to recapture what has been lost [in translation]. Why? Because I, as a Christ-worshipping agnostic, have seen so much un-Christian impatience with the poor encouraged by the quotation “For the poor always ye have with you.”…

[So he reads the story of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume.]

This is too much for that envious hypocrite Judas, who says… “Hey-this is very un-Christian. Instead of wasting that stuff on Your feet, we should have sold it and given the money to the poor people.” To which Jesus replies…: “Judas, don’t worry about it. There will still be plenty of poor people left long after I’m gone.”

This is about what Mark Twain or Abraham Lincoln would have said under similar circumstances.

If Jesus did in fact say that, it is a divine black joke, well-suited to the occasion. It says everything about hypocrisy and nothing about the poor. It is a Christian joke, which allows Jesus to remain civil to Judas, but to chide him for his hypocrisy all the same. “Judas, don’t worry about it. There will still be plenty of poor people left long after I’m gone.” Shall I re-garble it for you? “The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have Me.”

My own translation does no violence to the words in the Bible. I have changed their order some, not merely to make them into the joke the situation calls for but to harmonize them, too, with the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount suggests a mercifulness that can never waver or fade.

This has no doubt been a silly sermon. I am sure you do not mind. People don’t come to church for preachments, of course, but to daydream about God.

His heart seems so gentle and innocent. His insight seems so very right-on. I get the feeling he’s been around Jesus.

Perhaps they are delighting in each other tonight.


My friend Homeyra has an enjoyable quote from K.V. on the arts. Listed there are links to several others, too, including the following. Go on over to Homeyra’s and click away!
Kurt Vonnegut’s Artwork & Art show
A man without a country, by Ann
A tale for every American by Monte [thanks, H.!]
Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt, by Curt
Tuesday topics, by BB2Tags: , , , , , Monte Asbury

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Written by Monte

April 23, 2007 at 5:13 pm

Posted in Art, Bible, Jesus, Poverty, Religion

One Response

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  1. […] Vonnegut’s Artwork & Art show A man without a country by Ann A tale for every American A Christ-worshipping agnostic by Monte Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt, by Curt Tuesday topics, […]


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