A priest, a minister, and a rabbi are friends and drinking at their favorite bar. Another bar patron comments that bringing non-believers to God isn't really all that hard. A real challenge would be converting a bear.
Many drinks later, they decide to have a competition. They would all go out into the woods, find a bear, preach to it, and attempt to convert it. The next week, they would get together to discuss the results.
A week goes by, and the three are reunited...at the hospital.
Father Flannery, who has his arm in a sling, goes first. "Well," he says, "I went into the woods to find me a bear. And when I found him I began to read to him from the Catechism. Well, that bear wanted nothing to do with me and began to slap me around. So I quickly grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him and, Holy Mary, Mother of God, he became as gentle a lamb. The bishop is coming out next week to give him first communion and confirmation."
Reverend Billy Bob, who was in a wheelchair, speaks up next. In his best fire-and-brimstone speech he exclaims, " Well, brothers, I went out and I found me a bear. And then I began to read to my bear from God's Holy Word! But that bear wanted nothing to do with Scripture. So I took hold of him and we began to wrestle. We wrestled up one hill and down another until we rolled into a creek. There, I quick dunked him and baptized his hairy soul. And just like you said, he became as gentle as a lamb. We spent the rest of the day praising Jesus."
Then, they both turn to look at the rabbi, who is lying in a hospital bed. He is in a full-body cast and traction, with IVs and monitors attached everywhere. He is in bad shape.
The rabbi looks up and says, "Looking back on it, circumcision may not have been the best way to start."
What's So Funny?
This joke has a lot of cultural aspects to it, and a lot of religious vocabulary as well. It relates to stereotypes of Roman Catholic priests, Protestant ministers, and Jewish rabbis.
Priests are often characterized as Irish, and in fact, most of the nation of Ireland is Roman Catholic. Priests are called "Father" by members of the Catholic church. Flannery is a common Irish name. In Catholicism, priests may sprinkle holy water on people to bless them. In the joke, the priest has successfully converted his bear after putting drops of holy water on its head. Catholics mention Mary, the mother of Jesus, more often than Protestants do. The priest's superior, the bishop, will come to perform two Catholic rituals on the bear to finalize its conversion.
In the U.S., Protestant ministers are stereotyped as being loud, enthusiastic about their religion, and having Southern accents. Evangelical ministers preach "fire and brimstone" sermons with the message that if you don't believe in God, you will burn forever in hell after death. Men in the U.S. South are stereotyped as having double names (like Billy Bob, Jimmy Jack, or Bobby Joe). Sometimes the Bible is referred to as "God's Holy Word" or "Scripture." Many evangelical ministers do not believe in merely sprinkling new believers with a few drops of water. Instead, they prefer to immerse their entire body under water in a river or a baptismal pool.
Finally, Jews are stereotyped as having New York City accents. In fact, many Jews do live in NYC. (To hear a much better NY Jewish accent than mine, check out this link.) Like Christians, Jews believe in God, but they don't believe in Jesus. One job of a Jewish rabbi is to remove the foreskin (of the penis) of young boys in a ritual that welcomes them into adult membership of the religion. This is not a good idea to try with an angry bear, however.