Sep 19, 2010

Was Jesus Funny?

When we look at the picture of Jesus painted by the Gospels, we have an incomplete picture.  We don't know what he looked like - aside from being from the Middle East and having a beard.  Sure, we have artist renditions of Jesus - but we have no way of knowing if they are accurate.  (Actually, we can be pretty sure that they are NOT.)  Personally, I think that this was on purpose - so we would not worship an image of Jesus.  Rather, we should direct our allegiance to the true Christ.

Most of the time, I don't mind the lack of physical description of Jesus.  I have an active imagination and can generate a picture pretty easily in my mind.  I've done the same thing with regular books for decades.  But there is one big thing that is never described in the Gospel accounts that does bother me.  Why don't we ever see Jesus laugh?  We see Him cry (Luke 19, John 11:35).  We see Him angry (Matthew 21, John 2).  We see him compassionate, distressed, in authority.  We see him teaching, healing, healing, lecturing, walking on water, eating, having dinner.  But we never see him laughing.

This has actually been a difficult thing for me to understand over the years.  I like to laugh.  Sure, some people over the years have accused me of being negative or unemotional.  But that usually is when I am stressed or trying to get ready for a speaking event or something.  I really do like to laugh.  And I like to make people laugh.  When I am speaking at an event, it is a pretty sure bet that the attenders will be laughing at some point.  That is part of who I am.  And so I have really wrestled with why we never see Jesus laugh, smile, grin (despite what Monty Python sketches say), chuckle, or anything of the sort.  He never tells a joke.  He never laughs at a situation.

He is described as a Man of Sorrows.  We know that the lostness of the people around Him broke His heart.  He was about His Father's business.  And I guess that is where I have difficulties.  Did He not have the luxury to laugh?  Was it considered a frivolous activity that was beneath Him?  Does that mean that we shouldn't laugh and joke?  I know the Bible speaks critically inappropriate or coarse humor.  But we don't see a whole lot about laughter.  Sarah laughed at the promise of a baby in her old age - but that wasn't a positive action.  Proverbs is pretty derisive of those labelled "fools" or "jesters."  If Jesus didn't laugh, should we?  I mean, lots of people tell us we should ask What Would Jesus Do?  If we never see Jesus laughing, does that mean we shouldn't either?

This post is certainly not meant to be trivial or disrespectful, so I hope you don't think it is.  I really want to know, did Jesus laugh?  Was He funny?  And if He was, why was that character trait completely left out of everything we read about Him?  Was it because it would diminish His authority?  Would it undermine His Godliness?  I mean, I could see descriptions of His using the facilities as eroding His status.  But laughing?

We know that Jesus was fully man.  He was born.  We see Him as a boy at the temple.  Then we see Him as a fully grown man.  So, he is a person - a real man.  As human, laughter is natural.  From very early in life, babies smile and laugh.  That is one of the milestones for kids.  There's not many better things in life than watching a baby laughing.  Children laugh like crazy at all kinds of things.  You don't have to teach them that.  It is just a natural part of life.  If Jesus was fully human, then He had to laugh.  That is part of being human.

The problem I have is that He hung out with twelve guys every day for over three years.  Is it possible that those guys never laughed together?  They never busted out about some goofy story or something silly someone did?  These were guys.  And they weren't highfalutin learn-ed types either.  They were regular old guys - fishermen mostly.  I don't know many fishermen who didn't bust each other's chops on a regular basis.  That is pretty universal with guys.  They hang out and bust on each other and laugh a lot.

You mean to tell me that none of those guys ever cracked one off around the fire late at night?  No one ever stepped in donkey droppings?  Someone didn't trip over their robe and fall into the water?  Remember, these are twelve guys wandering around the countryside.  They ate fish.  There had to be some gastric instability going on.  Last weekend, we were discussing this at a youth retreat I was at.  One of the kids (a boy, of course) said, "One of the great things about being a guy is that from infancy until old age, a fart is always funny."  It's true.  Guys just laugh at that stuff.  (Remember, there are artificial fart machines out there and people buy them - probably all males.)  My three year old giggles when he toots.  I have so many stories from my past about groups of guys trying to gas each other out.  This never happened?  Personally, I believe it did.  And, I would like to think that Jesus participated in it.  He probably was really good at it.  So much so, that the other guys didn't want Him to play.  "No, don't ask Him to play.  Remember, even the winds obey Him.  It's not a fair contest."

In addition, children were drawn to Jesus.  He welcomed them.  I have three kids.  You know what kind of person they don't gravitate towards?  A gloomy unsmiling person.  Kids love happy people.  They like to be around adults who have a pleasant disposition, a smile on their face.  Would children have surrounded Jesus just because He was God?  Probably not.  There had to be something there.  And with all the talk of how we should be filled with joy, Jesus had to be joyful.  Right?  Joy is supposed to be something that flows through us - He couldn't have been different, could He?

Certainly, I am not trying to paint Jesus as a clown.  He brought some serious discussions into play.  You could definitely say that he was a downer at times - talking about His death, promising that people would hate His followers, saying you had to give up homes and families to follow Him.  Those were not cheery statements.  When He was knocking over tables, sweating blood, chewing out the Pharisees, He was not a jovial fellow.  It's just that few things really bring out your humanity more than humor.  The ability to laugh at yourself, laugh at and with other people, make people laugh.  Those are valuable human characteristics - or at least I have always thought so.

I guess part of what makes this issue so hard for me is that so many times when I am speaking, the people listening spend a lot of time laughing.  (And, no, it is NOT always AT me.)  I try very hard to allow God to flow through my words.  I aim to be flexible and receptive to His guidance as far as what I say.  I don't rely too heavily on outlines and frequently find myself using examples and stories completely on the fly.  I have always felt that when I am at my best, it is when I personally do the least and let God do the most.  If that is actually true, then it would follow that God uses the humor as well.  It puts people at ease, helps them to listen and engage, and it even assists in understanding what is being said by painting a picture.  I cannot be ultra-serious all the time when I am teaching and preaching.  I have tried.  I have aimed to better fit the mold of a traditional pastor, wearing gravitas and forcefully pounding points home.  But it never works.  It turns into something far different.

I have to believe that God values humor - I mean, He uses irony frequently, which can be funny.  The foolish shame the wise.  Our weakness makes us stronger.  The least end up first.  And He did create the platypus.  I just wish we could have seen Jesus laugh.  Maybe He is saving it for when He can really cut loose - when He is hosting the biggest dinner ever.  I think that is one of the coolest things to see - God laughing.  And I hope that when He sees me, He will say, "Well done, my good and faithful servant.  You really made me smile."  That would be the best.

1 comment:

D X said...

I truly believe that Our Lord must have had a great and wonderful sense of humor. After all, He was Jewish, and Jews are funny. If Our Lord had been around in the first half of the 20th Century, I'm certain he would have had an act on Vaudeville, as was standard for most Jews at the time. He probably would have started out with some impersonations, like maybe Buddha, or Mohammed. Then, if He hadn't been killed by any Muslims in the audience, He probably would have done some mother-in-law jokes. Or maybe He would have teamed up with someone like Henny Youngman and done a schlemiel-act, throwing pies and slipping on banana peels and stuff. I'm sure He would have told some really good crucifixion jokes, like, "Why did I cross the road? Because I was nailed to the chicken." And maybe He would have even ended with a funny anecdote about how anyone who didn't believe in Him was going to go to Hell for eternity. All-in-all, the Bible itself, I believe, is pretty hilarious, and a good testament of Our Lord's ability to make us laugh.