JOY SYLVESTER JOHNSON: Are You A Living Parprosdokian?

Joy Sylvester Johnson

A parprosdokian is a sentence which consists of two parts. The first is a well known figure of speech and the second is an intriguing variation of the first which forces the listener to reinterpret it.

Groucho Marx made a career out of parprosdokians:

“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

“She got her good looks from her father; he’s a plastic surgeon.”

“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I’ll never know.”

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”

Another character who made good use of parprosdokians was Mae West:

“When choosing between two evils, I always like to try the one I’ve never tried before.”

“When I’m good I’m very, very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.”

“I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.”

My brother Wayne once invented a parprosdokian without knowing the word:

” You can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him wear a shower cap.”

Corrie ten Boom, a Christian and part of the Dutch resistance during World War Two referencing Christians who cooperated with the Nazis:

“Just because a mouse is in the cookie jar, it doesn’t make him a cookie.”

Another master of the parprosdokian was Jesus.

One of the best examples would be Matthew 5: 1-12.

Jesus takes universal experiences inherent in the human condition (poverty, grief, war, injustice, hunger, thirst, suffering, persecution) and calls them “blessings.”

For generations we have “spiritualized” these sayings so much that they have lost the “spark” the first listeners experienced when they heard them.

My mom once said someone was so heavenly minded they were no earthly good. I think we have done that to these famous sayings of Jesus.

We have domesticated them to the extent their revolutionary meaning has been lost.

Perhaps it is time we rediscovered the “punch lines” in Jesus most memorable teachings.

Recently many people have been spurred toward political action. I would like to suggest that we use the parprosdokians of Jesus as our playbook.

We are called to resist evil and to do good. But we are called to do this not as people motivated by the hunger for power, but as resurrection people eager to serve.

We are not in it for what we can get for ourselves at the expense of others, but for the good of all.

“All” really does mean “all” so no one is left behind.

As “little Christs” we are called to follow the way of Christ in the way of Christ. This means we not only share the same destination, but we share the same way of getting there. ( confusion about this concept may be the key to where the church began to lose its sense of direction)

Sometimes ( in fact most times) this causes us to be in conflict with the value system of our culture.

In this way we ourselves become “living parprosdokians.”

We, like Jesus, become the punch line of history.

Perhaps that is why Paul said we are “fools” for the sake of Christ.

I am sure there are many in government, business, and the halls of power who see the Christian ethic as foolish. Whoever heard of winning by surrender? Or leading by serving?

And yet the scripture is relentless in its reminders that we are called not just to believe or cheer God on, but to be disciples who actually follow in the footsteps of Jesus (God Incarnate).

Sort of ups the ante doesn’t it?