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Discovering the Joy of Christ: Delving into the Humor of the Divine

Posted on June 05, 2024 in: Reflections

Discovering the Joy of Christ: Delving into the Humor of the Divine

My spiritual journey has taken many twists and turns over the years.

Last year, when I was asked by my friend Mary Ellen Mahoney, the Annual Catholic Appeal director, to speak to the Christopher Society at their annual dinner on behalf of the diocesan Communications Office and the Four County Catholic magazine, I jumped at the chance.

Here are a few of the highlights of the talk I gave. It is based on research for a term paper I wrote many years ago, where I sought to unravel a mystery. 

I am constantly on the lookout for imponderables — you know, those things around us that don’t seem to make a great deal of sense. For instance, why is ‘abbreviated’ such a long word? If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends? Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?

Over time, I’ve amassed a collection of such conundrums. However, a less lighthearted, but significant imponderable for me is this:

Did Jesus, as both fully human and fully divine, ever partake in the gift of laughter?

There are NO Bible verses that specifically say that Jesus laughed.

Wept, yes. Laughed, no. 

It is crucial to remember what the Gospels are not. They are not a detailed psychological profile of Jesus, nor are they intended as an exhaustive historical record of Jesus’ life. If they were, then the true miracle would lie in the infancy narratives, as Jesus never once required a diaper change!

We must heed John’s Gospel when it concludes with: 

There are many other things that Jesus did, but if these were to be described individually, I do not think the whole world would contain the books that would be written. (21:25)

It was Aristotle who wrote, ‘No animal laughs, save man.’ No other creature is afforded this gift. Along with reason, the ability to laugh defines humankind.

Let’s explore a few Old Testament passages familiar to first-century Jews:

“A joyful heart does good like a medicine, but a brittle spirit dries the bones.” (Prv 17:22)

King Solomon’s words likely served as one of the oldest prescriptions ever written. They speak of the benefits of a joyful heart, yet laughter is not explicitly mentioned. Nonetheless, as weeping symbolizes sorrow, laughter symbolizes joy.

God of laughter

Perhaps we overlook Jesus’ wit and humor due to misguided piety or fear of blasphemy.

At the wedding feast at Cana, didn’t Jesus help the party along by handling the refreshment crisis?

The Gospels portray Jesus with a sense of humor. He depicted the scribes and Pharisees as “Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel.” (Mt 23:24)

 

Imagine the laughter evoked when Jesus asked, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” (Mt 7:3-5) 

When the disciples sought to dismiss a crowd of 5,000, Jesus humorously retorted, “Give them some food yourselves.” (Mk 6:37) You can almost see the grin on Jesus’ face and hear Him saying, ‘Gotcha!’

What of this gift of laughter? Physicians and anthropologists have discovered many physical and social benefits related to laughter. The mind-body connection isn’t a new discovery as King Solomon’s quote from the book of Proverbs shows.

The scientific community now knows about the many chemical changes that occur in our bodies when we laugh and the positive effects they have on both physical and psychological healing.

Anthropologists tell us of the importance of laughter in cultures all over the world. The Navajo have a tradition of celebrating a child’s first expression of joy in something called the First Laugh Ceremony.

Successful teachers of students of all ages know that laughter not only helps get attention but helps with retention.

 

God of joy

 

Remember that it was often Jesus’ joy that attracted others to Him; His suffering and death were only the last few days of His life.

On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus admonished His disciples:

I have told you this so that My joy might be in you and your joy might be complete. (Jn 15:11)

Here, just hours before being arrested, beaten, crowned with thorns, humiliated, and crucified, our Lord is telling His disciples the benefit of abiding in Him is joy.

Joy is a word that we don’t use much in 2024. However, the disciples would have known exactly what Jesus was talking about.

The word joy shows up in Scripture 165 times, 101 of these uses are in the Old Testament. Variations such as joyed, joyful, joyfully, joyfulness, joying and joyous add an additional 36 to the list for a total of 201. 

Just to put it in perspective, another major topic that Jesus addressed — “forgiveness” totals 68.

God said: ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’ (Gn 1:26)

So, there you have it, right there at the beginning of scripture, Genesis, Chapter 1, the Holy Trinity decides to make man in Their image, endowing man with a trait not shared with any other creation, the gift of laughter. It is a gift with powerful and lasting effects.

Like any of God’s gifts, it can be used for good or evil. If used in a negative way, it can demean, deride, and scorn. If used as the Gospel shows Jesus using it, it can educate, strengthen, and heal.

Because of free will, the choice is up to us.

I’m off now to research my next imponderable: Why is the time when the traffic moves the slowest called the ‘rush’ hour?

By Wayne Gignac

Wayne speaks to church groups on a variety of topics. As a result, he founded JoyousCatholics.com. Weaving magic, music and humor, Wayne brings messages of love, laughter, and joy to parishes wherever he is invited. If you’re interested in bringing the spirit of joy to your community, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Wayne to schedule a talk at your parish.

 


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