The Pharisees failed to see that they were a joke (and often so do their religious offspring and self-righteous folks in general). Rather than repenting, they fought to defend themselves against Jesus’ stinging comedic barbs. In one ironic encounter, they neglect the fact that he is God who has come into their midst, and rather than humbly learning from him, they take the opportunity to rebuke Jesus for not washing his hands before dinner, like Miss Manners requires.20 Sure they are going to hell, but at least it’s with clean hands.

Lastly, in Matthew 15:10–14 we read:

And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

Jesus and Offense

Indeed, not only does the Bible say that we are to love people, but that love is not rude. In our postmodern age of nicety, the only real sin anymore seems to be hurting people’s feelings. Never mind if they are homosexual bishops or emergent pastors who finger-paint their doctrinal statements and deny penal substitutionary atonement because some Buddhist deacon, who can put his ankle behind his head for prayer, is an avowed pacifist, as if love is defined by movies made for junior-high girls and greeting cards rather than by Jesus. When the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended?” how did Jesus respond? Knowing their hardened, stubborn, rebellious, religious hearts of unrepentance, Jesus was not ready to schedule a meeting, apologize profusely, blog about his error, or spend the next decade listening to Elton John records alone in the dark, weeping bitterly because he could not shake the horror of hurting someone’s feelings.

In the end, Jesus was murdered. This was because he offended a lot of people. Many of them were most offended because they were the butt of his jokes. However, as Jesus says, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me.”21 Since we are all goofy sinners whose self-righteousness is a joke, the only way not to be offended by Jesus and to laugh at ourselves is to live a life of continual repentance.

The best place for this kind of loving prophetic humor is the pulpit. Regarding humor’s place in church services, John Frame has said:

Some may think that humor necessarily trivializes worship. But that is not true, for there is humor in Scripture, for example in Genesis 18:13–15; 21:6–7; Proverbs 26:15; Isaiah 44:12–20; Matthew 19:24; 23:24; and Acts 12:1–19. God laughs at the wicked in Psalm 2:7. Humor has a positive theological purpose: it enables us to see ourselves from God’s perspective; it knocks us down a peg or two. It shows the ridiculous discrepancy between God’s greatness and our pretensions. As such, the emotion arising from humor can pass very quickly into a deep sorrow for sin and a craving for God’s grace. Humor can also express joy in the Lord and the “hilarious” cheer (2 Cor. 9:7 in the Greek) by which God’s Spirit frees us from selfishness to serve our brothers and sisters. Humor can also establish a bond between leader and people, reassuring them that he is one of them. Thus, it can strengthen the horizontal side of worship, the unity of the body of Christ.19

Therefore, humor is, in fact, biblical, but is it helpful? This is necessary to address, because some people argue that while humor is permissible, it is not helpful.