Just before Christmas, I uploaded a short clip from a recent sermon on my Facebook page. I included the caption, “A church that makes the main thing the main thing, respects questions and doubts, and seeks unity in Jesus alone ~ Bayside Church!” The clip went for about 5 minutes and included some humour because I believe making people laugh is like sugar that helps the medicine go down. But apparently, I’m wrong!
One person commented, “You added a lot of humour here but I never heard Jesus, or the apostles do that in their ministry.” Personally, I’ve never heard Jesus or the apostles say anything. I’m not that old (whoops, sorry, humour). I guess what they meant is they haven’t read anything humorous in Jesus’ or the apostles’ teaching.
Lost in translation
One of the challenges we have with the Bible is that it was written over 2,000 years ago in various languages and to different cultures, and so the humour that is in the Bible doesn’t usually translate into modern English. It’s like when I preach in other countries through an interpreter; some jokes just don’t translate, and other things that I don’t think are funny become absolutely hilarious. Much of my life is like this!
Sad or joyful Jesus?
Quaker author Elton Trueblood in his book The Humour of Christ points out that because of the need to explain the suffering of Jesus, the sad parts can overwhelm the lighter elements. But Jesus was only the Man of Sorrows concerning His work on the cross – and even that He endured with joy (Hebrews 12:2). In fact, Jesus taught his followers that their sadness would only be for a short period and that his ultimate goal was for their joy to be full (John 16:19-24).
Some may want to point out that the Bible records that “Jesus wept’ not that “Jesus laughed”. This is mentioned because it was news, that is, an unusual event. Our newspapers don’t tell us the sun rose this morning, they don’t report on all the people who made it to work safely. The news announces unusual events – otherwise, it’s not news. The Bible doesn’t document that Jesus laughed because it wasn’t news, and there’s plenty in the Bible to indicate that Jesus was a happy man.
Hebrews 1:9 tells us “God has set you [Jesus] above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy.” He was a joyous man because He was filled with the Spirit and thus had the fruit of the Spirit including joy (Luke 10:21). Jesus attracted people. Children especially loved Jesus. They would climb up into his arms, and he would bless them. No one is attracted to sour-faced individuals. Jesus told people to “Be of good cheer” (Mt 9:2) – surely, He practised what He preached!
Jesus gave His joy to others – you have to have it to give it (John 15:11). And yes, Jesus used humour in His teachings. Statements like “take out the beam from your eye”; “strain out a mosquito and swallow a camel”; and “a camel going through the eye of a needle” would all have been hilarious to Jesus’ hearers.
The overly severe Pharisees accused Jesus and his disciples of being gluttons and drunkards. Of course, they were neither, but in the eyes of the stern religious people of the day, they were guilty because they associated with people who were. The first miracle Jesus did was turning water into the best wine at a seven-day wedding feast. Unfortunately, some of the Christian faith over the centuries has been about transforming the wine back into water!
On one occasion, Matthew threw him a massive feast and invited all of his tax-collector buddies to meet Jesus (Luke 5:27-39). The happy party caused the religious leaders to criticise, complain and talk of fasting and prayer (obviously because that is more spiritual than eating with friends). Jesus responded with humour, sarcasm, a parable, and then a sigh that despite his presentation of truth they, like fools, would stick to their old ways.
Even the morose and peevish John Calvin (known for burning opponents at the stake) had to admit in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (III: 19:9): “We are nowhere forbidden to laugh, or to be satisfied with food, … or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine.” Thanks for your permission, John!
A place for humour in faith
Humour celebrates the goodness of God, the world God created, and the life God gives. It is an accepted fact of medicine that humour is good for our physical health (Proverbs 17:22) and is usually the best way of coping with the trials and disasters that come our way. If we aren’t careful, we can let circumstances suck the joy right out of us. Humour can lighten the load.
The New Jerusalem Bible translates Colossians 4:6: “Talk to them agreeably and with a flavour of wit (“seasoned with salt,” RSV), and try to fit your answers to the needs of each one.” Greek comic writers used the verb artyo, meaning “to season”, as seasoning with the salt of wit. That’s what I was doing by using humour in the video I posted to Facebook, seasoning God’s truth with the salt of wit.
Jesus wouldn’t use humour? I beg to differ!