Jan Johnson
Jan Johnson

Articles: Essays

Birth Order Secrets of the Gospel Quartet
as told to Jan Johnson

Dear Publisher,

My four sons, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, have each written books about a folk hero named Jesus of Nazareth whose life was just one miracle after another. You won't be able to put these books down. The closing chapter of each one includes a beyond-and-back scene. Consider the possibilities! You could option any of their books to the television networks who could arrange for viewers to call in to vote on whether or not Jesus came back from the dead.

But since none of my boys are talk-show hosts nor are they related to Josephus Dobson, I'm taking a year off to help them with public relations for their books. I'm afraid the four books may all look alike to you, so I, as the boys' mother, will explain the differences among the boys and their books.

MATTHEW, first-born. If there was ever a Jewish mother's boy, Matthew is it. He can quote the Torah and the prophets jot and tittle, as you'll see in this manuscript. His book wouldn't sell to the TBN crowd, but it will sell to our people because he's slanted the whole thing to us chosen ones.

His overachieving, first-born tendencies show -- his manuscript is the longest. He was also a fringe member of Jesus' clique, so he details one of Jesus' hillside seminar lectures for three, count em three, chapters!

Judging from Matthew's past, he'll want big upfront money. It's hard for me to admit, but he collects taxes for a living. I thought hanging around with seedy radicals would turn him around, but it hasn't. People claim he's honest now and they flock to him for a good deal on Schedule A contributions.

Perhaps Jerry Seinfeld would endorse this book. Our dog trainer trains his fifth cousin's dog.

MARK, second born. Second borns thrive on being different, so Mark always hung out with the street crowd while Matthew was off in synagogue school. Mark's book is short (skips that genealogical stuff, sorry, no Mormon market here), cuts to the chase, and appeals to roaming, pagan types. You could probably sell his action packed version to MTV's new educational literature slot -- tell 'em Mark uses Hemingway's terse style.

But Mark is also quite a journalist, gathering facts and figures from an old fisherman-preacher, Peter, reputed to be one of Jesus' best buds. He uses Peter's eyewitness advantage well -- he describes not just grass, but the GREEN grass where thousands munched out on fish sandwiches prepared by Jesus' own hands. Mark can be objective too. When he tells anecdotes, he doesn't toot Peter's horn. (Matthew told me privately that this Peter tried to walk on water -- who does he think he is?) Mark tells in detail how Peter jumped ship during Jesus' criminal trial.

You're a publisher, you've got connections -- how about getting Arnold Schwarzenegger to endorse Mark's book?

LUKE Third borns are supposed to be dreamers, but my Luke never built any house among sandcastles. As a medical doctor, he polishes a supposed virgin-birth angle with details galore so that you're surprised when he doesn't comment on the DNA in every person listed in the genealogy. You could easily sell this chapter to the networks for a medical-breakthrough-of-the- month docudrama.

Luke's cultured Greek point of view (his monkish pal Paul convined him there's no such thing as a Jew or a Greek!) will make it easy for you to sell his version to the Arts and Entertainment channel. With his smooth literary style, Luke retells Jesus' most moving narratives (PBS's Masterpiece Theatre, for sure). Luke is also meticulous about historical facts (maybe Ken Burns would do a special?) and he's got a sequel in the works, which he calls, "Acts." How's that for classic simplicity?

Luke's book is the least churchy. He presents Jesus as an everyday man, putting on his tunic one armhole at a time. Maybe it could sell to the Book of the Month club or it could be excerpted in Atlantic Monthly. This is a book Garrison Keillor would endorse.

JOHN is the baby of the family. His impractical view of life shows in the way he skips the big moments: birth, infancy, childhood and baptism. Instead, he sticks with typical Globe stories about Jesus: performing magic tricks at weddings, meeting privately with a questionable Samaritan woman, bringing a friend back from the dead?!

But as a member of Jesus' clique, John offers the most personal angle. John was a typically spoiled, thunderous, last born child, but after sitting in smelly fishing boats with Jesus for a few years he's become today's sensitive man. (We can tousle his hair for a brooding PR picture.)

To be honest though, the market for John's book is slim. He used too many metaphors -- he quotes Jesus saying he's a door, a gate, a shepherd (he's really a carpenter!). John has targeted deep thinkers, but the Ph.D. crowd won't swallow it because he got hung up with Jesus being, get ready -- the Son of God. That's quite a marketing problem.

Perhaps you could package John's book as a collection of religious short stories and gear it to those literal-minded conservative churchgoers -- but do any of them know what a metaphor is? Poor John! It's as if he wrote it just for himself so he could curl up in a window seat and read about his best friend named Jesus. Nobody else will want to do that.

John, Paul, George, and Ringo they're not, but my four boys have written books that could re-introduce love and long hair. If one of these books became a bestseller, you could package all four books together in one volume. But, maybe not. Who would want to read the same story four times?

As an aside, publishing all four would solve one of my worries. I'm concerned that only three of the boys will get their books published and one will be left out. That's a terrible fate to suffer. Spare me, their mother, that shame.

Mrs. Q


This article originally appeared in The Christian Communicator.


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