I often have discussions with friends in both writing and theology circles about how to put the timeless truths of the Gospel into common vernacular. While there are many attempts to do so, many fail in one respect or another. Some part of the story will be modified that completely changes the impact. For example, turning Jonah from a prophet who doesn’t want to go into a space marine who goes AWOL instead of going on a mission fails on many levels.
It’s not that I don’t think the stories should be changed. It’s how they are changed that causes issues. Take, for instance, a story in The Cross and the Cosmos April 2011 edition. “The Cyborg’s Neighbor” takes the familiar story of a person in desperate need and puts it in a science fiction setting. It’s done very well.
Similarly, I stumbled upon Rob Woodrum’s webcomic Rabbi Encounters the other day. Oh, my. He hit the nail on the head with this comic. It brings some of the most beloved stories of the New Testament into the modern day without damaging the message.
The chapters are all set in Israel, and the first starts with the story of a foreign soldier (American) with a corporal in dire need of medical help. The words he shares with the rabbi are almost straight from Scripture, and his pivotal speech is directly from the Gospels. Rob gives similar treatments to a leper (an AIDS sufferer), to the woman at the well (she becomes the woman at the laundry mat), Zacchaeus (a mob kneebreaker), Jesus walking on water, and others. All of them were handled with respect for the text, care, and deep thought.
There was one panel that gave me pause, though. When Jesus is walking on the water, he tells Rocky (Peter) “to chill” and that the waves are “epic.” That may be modern, but it still brought me out of the story for a moment. The disciples in the boat remarked that it was out of character for the rabbi. Even so, the story was fantastic. Jesus didn’t just calmly walk on the water, He rode the waves (without a surfboard) and ran up and down. He enjoyed His creation. The picture of Jesus laughing while sliding down a wave made me laugh out loud. It was so on target.
So often we have this picture of Jesus as a stoic and always serious. But it isn’t so. Jesus possessed a great wit and used it. Humor, as it comes from both language and culture, is the first casualty of translation. Rabbi Joshua ben Joseph was a funny guy!
I highly recommend Rabbi Encounters.