Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The original King of comedy?

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One of today's readings [Mark 9:42-50] from the Daily Office was a passage often cited as an example of Jesus' use of humor. Was Jesus trying to be tongue in cheek, or is Jesus always supposed to be serious? The Franciscans argued about it in the Middle Ages [see or read The Name of the Rose], and the argument continues today. I think that Jesus did use humor, and I've noticed it's mostly sarcastic humor. In the Daily Office reading, he treats the silly idea that "my hand or my eye made me do it" with a quick eye roll and the offering of a "perfect solution for the problem." Consider how Eugene Peterson translates it in The Message:

"If your hand or your foot gets in God's way, chop it off and throw it away. You're better off maimed or lame and alive than the proud owner of two hands and two feet, godless in a furnace of eternal fire. And if your eye distracts you from God, pull it out and throw it away. You're better off one-eyed and alive than exercising your twenty-twenty vision from inside the fire of hell."

Here's more commentary from Harold J. Sala:

“The widespread failure to recognize and to appreciate the humor of Christ is one of the most amazing aspects of the era named for him,” so wrote the Quaker scholar Elton Trueblood in the opening sentence of his book entitled The Humor of Christ. And why haven’t we recognized that Jesus did smile, laugh, and had a sense of humor? A variety of reasons, including the fact that he spoke Aramaic, what he said and did was recorded in Greek, and then translated into hundreds of languages, including English. Facial expressions, things he said which were a play on words, and cultural innuendos become obscured in translation. The terrible passion of the crucifixion also makes us think that Christ could never have laughed or smiled. All of which are untrue.

Trueblood believed that it’s kind of a mistaken, misunderstood sense of piety that makes us fear that accepting the reality of Christ’s sense of humor would detract from his righteous life, as though being sober and serious, never cracking a smile, is a reflection of piety! He also believed that the humor of Jesus transcended words. He used pictures such as straining a gnat from your drink and swallowing a camel—something which anyone could grasp in any language. Had Jesus frowned on the display of humor, he would never have taken a little child in his arms and told us that unless we became like a little child we would not enter the kingdom of heaven. Children laugh unrestrained by pompous dignity. They can relate to the embarrassment of another child without ridiculing the child.

Even the critics and enemies of the Gospel were, on the whole, also blind to his humor. Frederich Nietzsche wrote, “Would that he [Christ] had remained in the wilderness and far from the good and just! Perhaps he would have learned to live and to love the earth—and laughter too!” The fact is that of all the creatures which God made, humans are the only ones who really laugh. Why? Made in the image of God, his children have intelligence which allows them to scoff at that which is unreasonable and absurd. There are many varieties of humans—some laugh at bawdy, off-color stories. Some laugh at the ridiculous (which, at times should include what we do and say ourselves). Some laugh at incongruities—a contrast of what you had hoped for with what happens. Some nervously laugh when they are embarrassed. And no matter what causes your laughter, you feel better when you laugh. It’s a medicine of the soul that lightens your heart and drops your pulse and blood pressure, too.

Phil Yancey wrote a book entitled The Jesus I Never Knew. In his book, which conveys a powerful message, he talks about the Jesus he heard about growing up—the sober, stereotyped, rigid individual who is completely unlike the real Jesus, the one portrayed in the New Testament. Has there been a conspiracy led by old slewfoot himself to make us think that Jesus was humorless? Possibly. Because when we discover he was completely human yet completely divine, it brings him closer to where we are and lowers the wall of separation which keeps many of us from really knowing him.

The better you know the context of the New Testament and take time to really study the Gospels, the more you will see the warmth of Jesus’ personality shining through, one fully and completely human, one who is dynamic and lacking nothing. The real Jesus is one whom you will grow to love and to accept completely. The better you know him, the greater will be your love for him, and the more faithfully you will follow and enjoy him.
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1 comment:

Timotheos Prologizes said...

I forgot to mention that the last Jesus miniseries that aired a few years ago on CBS did a good job of showing the humor and joy of Christ.