The LORD preserves the faithful, but the proud he pays back in full. (Psalm 31:23)
So, I happened to watch this old Dick Van Dyke Show episode today, called “Punch Thy Neighbor.” Van Dyke, you’ll recall, plays Rob Petrie, a comedy writer for the Alan Brady Show. He and his wife, Laura, live in New Rochelle, outside of New York. This episode starts as their neighbors, Jerry and Millie Helper, are watching the show with the Petries, and Jerry calls the show “rotten,” but he is “only kidding.” This “kidding” (which is never funny, but always edged with meanness) goes on as he gets his son, the milkman, and even the Petries’ own son to consider that the show was rotten. He even sends a singing telegram to Rob about how rotten the show is.
Rob and Jerry go out to lunch, and Jerry continues his ribbing, and Rob “accidentally” hits Jerry in the nose. This leads to many complications: Rob hits Laura in the nose as he recreates what happened at the restaurant, and Millie and Jerry fear that Rob is beating Laura. Jerry comes over, and physically restrains Rob by performing karate on Rob and then sitting on his chest. Eventually, though it’s all cleared up; but Laura, Rob and Millie all agree that Jerry’s kidding has got out of hand. Jerry admits, under duress, that he thought the show was “excellent.” When the wives are in the kitchen getting the coffee, Jerry goads Rob into punching him (on the arm) to make both Rob and Jerry feel better. Rob is reluctant, but Jerry calls the show “rotten” again, and Rob hits him. They do both feel better, and shake hands; friends again. As the two couples are having coffee, Jerry kids Rob one more time (about a non-untied shoelace being untied) as Rob goes into the kitchen to bring back the dessert.
In good sitcom fashion, the dessert is a pie, and Jerry warns Rob about a roller skate on the floor–this time he is not kidding. But it’s a boy-who-cried-wolf situation, and Rob slips on the roller skate, and the pie goes–you guessed it–into Jerry’s face. Rob says Jerry will never know if Rob knew about the skate.
And so, as in the psalm, Jerry gets “paid back in full”–the kidder is kidded, and gets a pie in the face. But it is so odd that Jerry never apologizes to Rob, or really ever admits he was wrong, exactly. Rob, who is somewhat in the role of the “faithful” here, has his reputation and self-worth preserved, and, by confronting Jerry, manages to preserve their friendship.
Maybe the moral of the story is just to not send mean singing telegrams to your friends. But if this were the real world, I would hope that Rob could speak softly and confront Jerry, and Jerry would apologize and repent, and there would be no need for vengeful pie or the chaos that proceeds from mean humor.
I think I will look for ways to affirm someone’s “excellence” today, and try to avoid mean teasing, and look for ways that the Lord can preserve good things when I and others act faithfully. And, if I slip up, I’ll watch out for pie in the face.