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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!