Is It Biblical to Be Funny?
- Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Jesus said that Christians who don’t evangelize are as helpful as a house fire: “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket, or under a bed, and not on a stand?”13 Perhaps his most hilarious funny is Matthew 19:24: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” In trying to figure out what Jesus was talking about, more than a few Bible commentators have done origami to that section of Scripture. Possibly the most common explanation is that there was some hole in some wall in some town that a camel could pass through only by lying on its gut and shimmying through like a Marine crawling in boot-camp training, and some people called that place “the eye of the needle.” Or Jesus was telling a joke, and the guys in suits missed the punch line.
Scholars in the area of humor say, “The most characteristic form of Jesus’ humor was the preposterous exaggeration.”18 The whole idea of a camel being threaded through a needle like a line of thread was an ancient funny where he exaggerated to make a point. Likewise, the guy who says he’s so hungry he could eat a horse does not intend to masticate an entire horse—hooves, tail, and all.
Another example of Jesus using preposterous exaggeration is found in Matthew 7:3, which says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” This Hebrew funny probably got the most laughs on the job site with the framing crew who knew the difference between a two-by-four and a speck of sawdust that blows off a table saw.
For yet another example of Jesus’ preposterous exaggeration, we can consider his encounter with Peter in Matthew 16:13–20. There, Jesus nicknamed Cephas after the WWE wrestler, calling him Peter, which means “the rock,” just before Peter proved he was merely a pebble by rebuking Jesus, and Jesus calling him Satan, or at least Satan’s wingman. 14 While calling Peter “the rock” is funny, not funny is the fact that the Catholic Church, in which I was raised and served as an altar boy, missed the punch line, and rather than having a good laugh, ended up with the papacy and a guy with a really big hat.
Jesus and the Pharisees
Jesus’ most stinging humor, however, was reserved for the religious types, especially the Pharisees. Jesus called them a bag of snakes15 and said that their moms had shagged the Devil.16 While those who suffered under the judgmentalism of these religious types likely had more than a few good laughs when Jesus lampooned them, the Pharisees, of course, did not think it was funny, because apart from repentance sinners are no fun at all.
Despite the fact that the Pharisees were a devoutly religious group, like many cults and religions in our day, Jesus actually made fun of how they did religion. While it will likely shock our sensibilities, which have been refined by postmodern pluralism, Jesus made fun of how they prayed, saying, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others.”17
He also made fun of how they fasted: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others.”18 Jesus made fun of how they tithed, declaring, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”19 To summarize, Jesus made fun of decent Republican, church-going, tax-paying heterosexual guys for praying wrong, sucking in their faces when they fasted as if they were supermodels, tithing out of their spice racks, and being blind tour guides to hell.
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