Painting Jesus as a comedian would obviously be short-selling his divinity, his character, and his overall nature as a real man who walked this earth. However, to say that Jesus wasn’t funny, sarcastic, and purposefully comical would be to miss the mark just as broadly.
I think most often we’re presented with the meek, mild, kind, suffering, and loving Jesus. He was all of those things, but to stand up to the oppressive religious and political systems of his day as he did, one must be equipped with a strong sense of humor. In the midst of the turmoil and anger toward his subversive message of the Kingdom of God, Jesus found ways to break the religious and political tension with humor.
How was Jesus funny? Let’s look at just three short examples, but I challenge you to look past my examples because you will surely find many of Jesus’ confrontations with the religious and political structures of his day to be somewhat comical, if not downright hilarious!
- Jesus as the storyteller – Jesus and his parables are still some of the most prolific stories in human history. His ability to weave his days’ pop-cultural issues into parabolic stories full of imagery and enlightenment were a sure sign of his ability to be jovial and funny. A good storyteller is one who can draw you in with not only their content and depth, but engage you through their light-hearted nature. Also, the very nature of his parables were so outlandish that they must have seemed humorous to the multitudes of people who would follow him like the paparazzi follows a celebrity.
Think about it! His messages of: love your enemies; pray for those who persecute you; the kingdom of God is at hand; and turn the other cheek amongst many others were counter cultural ideas. Often the best way to break through tension in order to present these kinds of ideas, is often tongue in cheek.
You’ll find Jesus often employing this method when telling his followers that the way of the Kingdom of Heaven is not the way of the Scribes or Pharisees which were the religious leaders of his day.
- Jesus as a fun-loving friend – If we take a look at Jesus’ interaction with Nathaniel in the Gospel of John, we will find a person in Jesus who doesn’t mind a good prodding for the sake of comedic relief. Nathaniel’s response to Jesus being the Messiah, and his place of origin being Nazareth was, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
The humor in Nathaniel’s response was that he was actually making fun of Jesus and how his culture, as a Jewish man, viewed Nazarites. They were viewed as being unlearned, uncultured, and unwanted during his day by most of the culture. That is to say, to Nathaniel, Jesus may as well have been Jethro Clampett!
In this interaction most of us would have to assume, based off of our impressions of the “serious” Jesus, that he would have rebuked Nathaniel and moved on, but that’s not what Jesus did. In fact, Jesus’ response is very telling about his character as a man who enjoyed a good laugh. Jesus said, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” In other words, Jesus was saying, now here’s a man I can trust!
Jesus’ response was one of comedic relief, which showed us his ability to even laugh at himself. What’s important to remember, is that it was this response that led him into a conversation with Nathaniel about being “born again” and the nature of salvation which we often use in today’s church culture. This was a major conversation brought about by Jesus’ ability to respond to an insult with a light heart!
- Jesus the Heretic – This topic may sound like I’m calling Jesus a bad name, but the reality is that he was a heretic to most orthodox Jews of his day. His way of thinking, his proclamation of his own divinity, and his subversive message of redemptive peace rather than redemptive violence were massive points of conflict within the Jewish belief system.
Jesus consistently confronted these issues head on, and wasn’t shy when it came to confronting the religious leaders of his day. Jesus’ primary function, or job, in society was a rabbi which means his job was to teach. Many think he was a carpenter because that’s what his father Joseph did, but culturally there were very stringent qualifications one had to pass before they could be called Rabbi. We find throughout the Gospels that this is, in fact, the title ascribed to Jesus by his followers.
With that in mind, Jesus was found teaching, healing, and even casting out demons on the Sabbath. This was a huge no-no in his day, but he scoffed at the idea of serving himself (resting on the Sabbath) over meeting the needs of others.
One of my personal favorites is in Matthew 6 when Jesus is teaching his followers how to pray, but before he follows with the Lord’s Prayer, he instructs them: “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men…”
One thing should be noted about this statement by Jesus, which is that in order to stand in the synagogue and pray you had to be qualified. The Scribes and Pharisees of the day were those people who held such qualifications. The comedic Jesus shows up again here when he proclaims “don’t be like the hypocrites…” He wouldn’t even give them the pleasure of calling them by their title, but instead reserved the title hypocrite for them. Can you imagine the snickers, chuckles, grins, and LOLs that this comment must have received when it exited Jesus’ mouth! This guy was hilarious!
As you can see, we all too often paint Jesus in a very serious light which can cause him to seem only God, but never truly human. The reality is that Jesus was purely divine and purely man. He laughed with us, cried with us, joked with us, and died for us. Life is full of hardships and hard times. We mourn with those who mourn, and we cry with those who cry because that is the Jesus way. We also laugh with those who laugh, and this is just as much that way of Jesus as any other expression of human emotion.
Our ability to find fun, humor, and laughter in this life is indicative of the amount of joy that we possess. Our laughter can bring healing to the hurting, and Jesus knew this better than anyone. What an amazing example we have to love others. Humor is a part of our lives as humanity, and if we’re going to be like Jesus, then we should embrace it just as he did… with open arms and a big smile.