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Did Our Lord Have a Sense of Humor?

February 24, AD2017

vegetables, vegetarian

This question popped into my head one day. I can’t tell you why, it just did. I saved this question for Father P. because he is a thoughtful priest. He gives us interesting homilies without resorting to notes or script. He just leans one arm comfortably on the ambo and talks to us. I could have asked him after Mass, or whenever I ran into him. It just seemed not right to bother him when he is approached by people who have more important questions and problems. So, I waited for the perfect opportunity –  our monthly potluck dinner.

I love potlucks. It is a time when you can get to know people and interact, just in the way I was curious about Jesus. Our priests have to eat, I suppose yours do too. Our Franciscan Friars live by the generosity of others so I can always expect to see them at our potluck.

Let me make a few things clear for those looking for unmentioned truths or undeclared opinions before I go on:

  • Yes, Jesus is still with us. To say “did” in the title refers to temporal time, from His birth to His earthly death. The time He showed the Apostles His physical self.
  • Yes, it may have been a trivial question. I accept your judgement and you can stop reading here, but I am still going to continue my story.
  • My parish priest offered that my question is not heretical. I never thought it was, which only shows that my priest has my back, and I can rely on him to help me safeguard my soul.
  • No, I am not putting forth an argument in favor of the settled Arian heresy. I believe as we say in the Nicene Creed; true God from true God. My pastor also reminded me that this is a question of character, not theology.

Why Ask This?

I asked this question because I was curious as to what it would be like to actually have been close to Jesus. To talk to him about everyday things. Not just logistic problems like; we don’t have enough fish and bread to feed everyone. But the usual chatter between people who are just being friendly.

The Jesus we know from scripture is quoted saying serious things. His words are analyzed in order to squeeze truth from them by your priest at Mass. Heady stuff, but everyday life with Him had to have another dimension. We know He was not just inspirational and informational: walking on water and dispensing wisdom.

The more I pursued the question, I realized that humor is a whole area of study for psychologists. Even philosophers have an opinion about humor. I am not that interested in trying to psycho-analyze Our Lord. It is just a simple question that we are used to asking about someone we may know; or we happen to meet.

This Question Can be Received Two Different Ways.

While eating his meatless lasagne, Father P. offered that since Jesus was human, he had to have all of the human senses. I wasn’t really trying to emulate the scientists who analyze a question to death. Where they ignore religion, starting with His birth, and work towards the assumed impossibility of His resurrection. It is natural to assume a person trying to understand a supernatural being might not fully understand the Trinity that well.

This was not a Trinitarian question.

In normal conversation, when asked if so-and-so has a sense of humor, we understand that we are being asked about the intensity or degree that humor is shown by that person – an assumed to be, human person. We may answer that the person has no sense of humor, which is probably impossible. We also may not know the person well enough to answer that he has at least smiled at a funny situation. Of course, any answer is colored by our own idea of what is a sense of humor.

Another priest at our table, Father T., consumed as I remember, a salad and a full plate of samples of the offerings. In between bites, he offered that humor is dependent upon cultural norms and the language used. I don’t know Aramaic or ancient Hebrew, and the only thing I know about Jewish people is the couple of years I spent in New York City. I doubt that Jesus joked about the danger of riding the subway late at night.

What Did I Find?

Others at our table could not relate a funny Jesus story. So, not finding an anecdote in that setting I turned to Google.  I became aware on Goggle that I wasn’t the only one ever to ask that question. The search produced one link that caught my eye. I usually look for Catholic sources but found few that declared themselves as Catholic. I am a sucker for any place that has “Oxford” in its name. It sounds so authoritative and sophisticated. As I stumbled upon the Oxford Biblical Studies Online, I thought I would take a look. After all, I’m not looking for an answer to the question of whether James is really the brother of Jesus. I am willing to search in the spirit of ecumenism that our Holy Father is promoting.

Oxford’s Editor-in-Chief, Michale Coogan, does not believe that the bible is divinely inspired. If this attitude is reflected by others writing for this organization, it may be an advantage in this case. A humanist view of the people in the Bible may be more sensitive to the human characteristic of a sense of humor. How mistaken can a theologian be about something as self-revealing as humor.

I did find an essay at this site called Humor in the New Testament, by a writer who also needed help (according to the length of the list of people he consulted) finding humorous anecdotes. He claimed that Jesus, “had a good sense of humor and surrounded himself with others who were similarly endowed.”

I looked up one of his examples in the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition Bible:

When the days drew near for him to be received up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him;  but the people would not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?” But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village. (Luke 9:54, bold is mine)

…Simon whom he surnamed Peter; James the son of Zeb′edee and John the brother of James, whom he surnamed Bo-aner′ges, that is, sons of thunder; (Mark 3:7, bold is mine)

Now that is funny, even in my society 2,000 years later! But, out of the many examples given, I didn’t find many that I thought were humorous. Irony and exaggeration seemed to be a stretch to me. To take parables literally may be funny, but this does not seem to illustrate that He intended them to be humorous. And my question was about His sense of humor.

Other Writers

I searched some more and found another writer, an Episcopal Priest, who offered something that seems closer to the answer I was searching for. It was also the answer Father T. gave me:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! (Matt 23:24)

This exaggeration may or may not be wholly funny to you in English. But, the writer pointed out that Jesus spoke Aramaic saying, “…the Aramaic word for gnat is galma and the word for camel is gamla.” The spoken phrase may have an added impact by the humorous sameness of the two words suggesting a subtle spoken difference, used with the ridiculous of image swallowing a whole camel. Imagine how this passage could be translated into the political cartoon format of the last two centuries when newspapers were the main source of detailed information.

Conclusion

Jesus did indeed have a sense of humor. Humor was part of his humanity and he exhibited it somewhat as we do during activities with our friends. Perhaps while eating together. This exercise showed me that He was intelligent, and could connect with others through their humanity. This is just the Jesus I can relate to. One that is FULLY human.

I have learned one valuable lesson, that is not funny, while eating with my fellow parishioners and our priests. Don’t wait until after you have eaten the main dishes before you grab a piece of that caramel custard dessert. It will be gone!

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

H.L. Duncan is a senior citizen widower in his 8th decade of life (70s) who was married for 36 years to his only wife Jill. He lives on 40 acres of the Great Basin Desert in an owner built solar powered home. He has three children who have left the nest and are now too far away. After an Episcopalian childhood, his teen years brought on the disease of agnosticism with occasional bouts of atheism. He entered the Church in 2010 and says he has felt at home ever since. His working life included Forest Fire Truck Driver, Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa building schools, Motion Picture Cameraman in industrial films and while in the U.S. Army, production assistant to a Producer in Hollywood, Professional Still Photographer, Photo Lab Technician, Postal Service Letter Carrier, Computer Systems Analyst in business and government, Computer Consulting, Owner of an Internet business, Web site creation. His educational background is mostly self directed reading and experiential but does include; A graduate of the London School of Film Technique, London, England, AA degree in Business Data Processing with an additional course in accounting, Seminars and technical classes. He now spends his days in local parish church work and Right to Life groups, Internet conversations with new friends and old enemies of the Church.

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  • James

    I am not a Catholic, but I certainly am a Christian. I enjoy this site and I love most of the comments. However I notice some here (not on this article), like to use religious sounding language. Makes them sound rather pious. For instance, in requiring one to be a Catholic for salvation. Several denominations claim to be the first or the only way.. I find it strange that the history is always missing, or excused. My heritage takes me to France. From what I discovered, seems that the CC took some of my ancestors down because they were not of the Church, but were Christians. My point is. Claiming to be the ONLY True Church, with such a horrible history towards non Catholics, doesn’t sit well with many Christians in there OWN church. Jesus could not have had a sense of humor when the seriousness of His mission was so profound. Once again, if you don’t watch out. You will have a comedian for a pope and sanctify him and use pools balls to communicate. Respectfully, James

    • “Jesus could not have had a sense of humor when the seriousness of His mission was so profound. ”

      Well James…you seem to have a problem with our creator and/or your church.

      If we do find a sense of humor in Jesus, then you are rebuking God himself for giving that to us.

      If we don’t find a sense of humor, then He was not fully human – a rebuke of Christian doctrine.

      The only human attribute he was lacking was sin which is acknowledged in the bible – “He committed no sin; no guile was found on his lips.” (1 Peter 2:22)

      ” Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant,being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:5-8)

  • PalaceGuard

    May I be forgiven if I am wrong, but I have thought that Jesus’ comment to the woman at the well contained an element of wry humor, “…and the one you have now is not your husband” with the possible added element of an emphasis on “your”. It may well have been that a mildly mocking reproval was exa tly what she needed and exactly what she would heed without umbrage. Then again, I could be wrong.

    • I don’t know if there is a way to know for sure this many years later. But, who could also call you wrong, for the same reason?

    • James

      He simply revealed her sin. No humor. I notice you asked to be forgiven if you are wrong. It is not a sin to be wrong. The sin is omission..which she surely what she thought she could do with Jesus.

  • bdlaacmm

    The story of Jesus sending Peter out to fish, so that he could pull a coin out of its mouth to pay the temple tax, has always struck me as Our Lord having a bit of fun with His chief Apostle.
    (Matthew 17:24-27)

    • That does have a bit of David Blaine in it.

  • Dom C

    Great post, HL! Our associate pastor recommended a book to me, which as Providence would have it, just arrived today in the mail, by Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, The Man Christ Jesus: How the Lord Looked, Acted, Prayed and Loved. I have just started getting into it, but he uses scripture and other sources to create a “composite profile” of Jesus. Looks pretty interesting.

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