Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 5:30-47) transports me to one of the best courtroom movies of all time, My Cousin Vinny, as personal injury lawyer Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) and his girlfriend Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) travel from New York City to rural Beechum County, Alabama to defend Vinny’s young cousin Bill (Ralph Macchio) against charges of a murder committed in a convenience store (where Bill had forgotten to pay for a can of tuna). Cousin Vinny gets off to a slow start, but eventually finds his groove in some classic rapid-fire cross examination questions. When one prosecution witness, Mr. Tipton, claims to have seen the defendants going in and coming out of the store, with only 5 minutes elapsing, and that he cooked his breakfast of eggs and grits in the interim, Vinny is ready to pounce, having done his homework on grits: How do you cook your grits? Do you like them regular, creamy or al dente? Mr. Tipton: Just regular I guess. Vinny: Regular. Instant grits? Mr. Tipton: No self respectin’ Southerner uses instant grits. I take pride in my grits. Vinny: So, Mr. Tipton, how could it take you 5 minutes to cook your grits when it takes the entire grit eating world 20 minutes? Mr. Tipton: I don’t know, I’m a fast cook I guess. Vinny: Are we to believe that boiling water soaks into a grit faster in your kitchen than anywhere else on the face of the earth? Mr. Tipton: I don’t know. Vinny: Well, I guess the laws of physics cease to exist on top of your stove. Were these magic grits? Later, Vinny’s girlfriend Mona Lisa, who knows her stuff when it comes to auto mechanics, goes to the witness stand to tear apart the FBI expert witness testimony who had id’d the getaway car from tire tracks as being Bill Gambini’s ’64 Buick Skylark. Mona Lisa is absolutely positive that those tracks had to be made by a ’63 Pontiac Tempest, and proves it beyond the shadow of a doubt with her knowledge of the different suspensions used in the ’63 and ’64 models. Judge Chamberlain Haller (Fred Gwynne) has no choice but to dismiss all charges.
There were no grits cooking or independent rear suspension Pontiacs in Jesus’ day, but there were courtroom-style dramatics to rival Vinny Gambini. It helps to imagine today’s passage being read by Joe Pesci, with a rapid-fire New York Italian accent. Jesus even has a cousin Johnny involved in this drama, defending him and presenting testimony about Jesus’ actions. Jesus understands that in the context of this case, in the court of public opinion, cousin Johnny’s arguments aren’t going over so well, even though there is no question in Jesus’ mind about the veracity of his statements. At the end of the day, Jesus decides to let go of Johnny and represent himself. He lays out his works as exhibit A, the words of Moses as exhibit B, and then he raises objections to all the testimony given against him; he tears apart the credibility of those witnesses who have set out to prosecute him, those who glory in each other but fail to glorify God.
To the extent that we are absolutely positive Jesus is the Way, to the extent that our lives truly give glory to the one who promoted peace in place of violence, generosity in place of greed, welcoming hospitality in place of prejudice and exclusion, we are likely to find ourselves strangers in a strange land, given our culture’s values. We will be as out of place as Italian American New Yorkers in Beechum County, Alabama. But, if we really know our stuff, if we really understand how the engine of Christianity works, we should be able to bear witness with as much confidence as Mona Lisa Vito; we should be able to reveal the truth with as much tenacity as Vinny Gambini. I’ll start practicing my accent; I have a lot of work to do in that regard.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with your friends on Google+, FB, Twitter, etc.