"Now, Jesus, you just can't call Herod a fox," says consultant Barnabas Simeon.
Barney for short, a distant cousin to Jesus, is a consultant from the well-respected public relations firm of Spin, Dodge & Obscure.
"It's too dangerous to cut down the lion of Judea, the ruler of the land, the representative of the Emperor of Rome, the ruler whom God has ordained to run the government," Barney says. "It's too negative."
"You know and I know that Herod Antipas has some, er, issues." Barney continues. "I'm sorry that he beheaded our Cousin John. Really I am. You know that I loved John. I really did. In fact I tried to help him. But John just wouldn't listen."
"If anybody needed, and needed badly, a lot of public relations advice, it was John," he says. "I worked hard at helping him tone down his directness, redirect his bluntness, turn his negatives into positives."
"I know, I know, he was drawing huge crowds and baptizing lots of folk with that sermon about how the people were a 'brood of vipers' and how the river stones had the same potential as the 'children of Abraham.'" Barney demurs. "But just imagine what he could have done if he had been more positive."
"Nobody ever built a successful church or organization or movement with prophetic clarity," he insists. "It's never been done. The prophets always get killed, you know."
Barney reflects sadly on what might have been: "We could have built a great organization. We could have fed a lot of folk, sent a lot of missionaries, set up a lot of peer-learning cells and sold a lot of books. Imagine what we could have done, with the folk giving up extra material possessions and tax collectors getting saved. If we had gotten the economic leaders involved, imagine where we could have gone."
"But no, John had to go negative," Barney says, shaking his head. "He just couldn't leave it alone."
"He just had to make a public statement about Herod divorcing his wife Phasaelis and marrying his brother's wife Herodias," he complains. "He shouldn't have called attention to that. He should have just let the people draw their own conclusions."
"He shouldn't have picked a fight. No way. He lost his focus."
"I'm not saying what Herod did was right," Barney rationalizes. "I'm not criticizing his lovely daughter. They had had a little too much to drink that night.
"But you know, John was asking for trouble, just asking for it."
"I told John again and again," Barney continues. "I said, 'John, Proverbs 16:24 tells us that "Pleasant words are like a honeycomb." I said we need to use more 'honeycomb' words. We'll win a lot more followers and avoid a lot more fights with sweet words."
Barney scurries around to get in front of Jesus to make sure he is listening.
"You know, we're on the same side," he says. "I'm trying to help you. I'm trying to keep our message positive, albeit, intentionally vacuous.
"Herod's already trying to arrange a meeting," he warns. "We sure don't want you beheaded, too."
"And another thing, please stop referring to God as a mother hen," he groans. "My goodness, Jesus, words matter. Folk might get the wrong impression that you think God is a woman. If you compare God to a hen, who spreads out her wings in protection, folk might get the idea that you're a liberal, a feminist. Remember how conservative this community is!"
"Oh, ah, another thing--your sermon about division, dividing father against son and daughter against mother--well, that sounds a little harsh, don't you think? Remember we're trying to stay positive with a pro-family message."
"Okay, while we're discussing our message, I need to remind you about another combative word." Barney is on a roll. "A couple of Sabbaths ago, you called the head of the synagogue and other religious leaders 'hypocrites.'"
"We're simply not going to grow this organization by offending community leaders," he chides. "The down-and-out crowd might cheer class warfare, but they don't pay the bills. We cannot be political partisans."
Barney reminds Jesus he is only doing his job and that he hates to bring up again the "woe" statement.
"Jesus, you'll thank me later," he promises. "But let's not call attention to the Pharisees. Let's just pretend they're not in the room. We're doing our thing. They're doing their thing. If we don't mention them, everybody will forget them."
"And another thing, calling Pharisees 'fools'--that's too negative. And accusing them of tithing mint while neglecting justice sounds so moralistic."
Barney reminds Jesus of the very first sermon he preached: "Remember when you picked up the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth? Now that was a great sermon. You said your mission was to preach good news to the poor, proclaim the release to the oppressed, restore health to the ill, free those in bondage and announce year of jubilee."
"Remember how proud everyone was? We need to stick with that message--especially if we can spiritualize it. If people think you're talking about evangelism and pastoral care and positive thoughts, and not turning upside down the social order, then we'll do real well," Barney winks.
"Nobody wants to hear that Herod's a fox, that God's a woman, that synagogue leaders are hypocrites, that Pharisees behave like fools and practice empty rituals while forsaking social justice," Barney insists.
"Nobody, for that matter, wants to hear how the religious right colludes with the political right to keep the poor in poverty, a health care system rigged for the rich and what you really mean by economic justice."
"Jesus, people are tired of all the negatives," Barney counsels. "They are. They want a positive message. They don't want to be reminded of social corruption and religious idolatry."
"Why don't you try to stay positive, avoid any critique of Herod, the Pharisees, the synagogue honchos, the lawyers, the Romans?" he pleads. "Can you do that for the movement?"
"Remember, the movement is more than one man's opinion," Barney says. "And what's really important is building the organization."
"Later on, you can be more direct, more truthful. But now's just not the right time."
Jesus thinks: "Get thee behind me Satan."
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.