At one point in His travels, Jesus’ disciples complained that someone was healing people in Jesus’ name, but wasn’t part of their band. “Jesus, look at what he’s doing. Stop him! He’s not one of us.” Jesus’ response was “Let him be. If he’s advancing the Kingdom, that’s fine with me.” [paraphrased].
Last night, I saw a recording of the Mark Twain humorist award given posthumously to comedian George Carlin at the Kennedy Center. Carlin was iconoclastic, irreverent, and brilliant. His comedy was rich with metaphor and satire. He made fun of our use of words and our silly preoccupations, but in doing so, he was not mean or elitist. He laughed with us and for all of us. He helped me see how caught up I can be in the rules of “good behavior” without actually being “good.” No wonder “religious” people felt very uncomfortable with his comedy. No wonder “religious” people felt very uncomfortable about Jesus in his day as well.
Comedians have the ability to get us out of our habitual ways of seeing things. Laughter is very therapeutic for that reason, especially if we are led to laugh at ourselves.
There is not a single instance in the Bible of a Pharisee smiling, laughing, or telling a good story. They were so rigid that the word “pharisee” has come to mean “a self-righteous or sanctimonious person” [Wordbook, iPhone version 4.3.1]. Jesus, on the other hand, was always ready to tell a “good story.” Experiment with seeing him tell some of his stories in your mind’s eye: but please don’t borrow the pictures of the “nice Jesus” with the brilliantly white robe, perfect teeth, unweathered skin, and nicely combed hair. Remember, Jesus was not staying at the nicest hotels.
The real Jesus probably not only created a good story, but knew how to deliver it! He knew people loved drama, and enjoyed a good laugh. He probably put himself totally into the story. If you cannot envision Jesus laughing, then He may not be for you the “fully human” person the Church teaches Him to be.
Try to suspend your Twenty-First Century mindset to enter into the Jewish humor of Jesus’ time and place. I find it hard to believe Jesus would not be laughing with delight when the little Zacchaeus scampered out the tree to honor Jesus with an invitation to his home, and then to even commit to give half of his worldly possessions to the poor and to pay back four times whatever he stole from people as a hated tax collector. [Luke 19:1-10].
Or imagine his sly grin when he let a Samaritan woman know she had been through five husbands and was living with a man currently. He did not say this with judgment or condemnation, for if He had, she would not have been open or responsive to Him. No, she responded by bringing many others to Jesus because there was humor and warmth in his observation. [John 4:7-30] Yes, I can easily imagine him at least smiling and maybe even chuckling in such a way that she felt comfortable and accepted.
There, in that lightness of heart, that extension of freedom from condemnation, is the demarcation between Jesus and the Pharisees. I’m convinced that if your idea of Jesus does not include a health dose of laughter, something important, maybe central, is missing.
One of George Carlin’s routines is about “Our Stuff.” He brilliantly exposes our fascination with our stuff, and how silly we are about taking our stuff with us. If we have any extra space, we are compelled to get more “stuff” to fill it. In the course of the routine, we see clearly how “it’s just stuff.” Not once is a piece of “stuff” ever identified. It consoles and comforts us to have “our stuff.”
This is the “unholy alliance” between Carlin and Jesus. I think Jesus would have enjoyed Carlin’s comedy, and I’m absolutely confident He would have loved Carlin himself (and still does!). They were both in the business of exposing our silly preoccupations or obsessions on things or ideas that don’t matter.
Both Carlin and Jesus had an “irreverent” attitude toward rules and regulations, customs and social expectations, that imprisoned people rather than setting them free. Carlin did a routine on a litany of words that the government [the FCC] says, in the name of decency, cannot be mentioned in public broadcasts. Carlin did not advocate the use of these words, he simply used comedy to uncover how blindly we accept our cultural concepts of “right” and “wrong” usage. What he points out in the routine is that these are just words. They have no power except what we arbitrarily confer on them.
Jesus had a similar attitude toward the customs and practices of His day. Look! he said, these rules are just the form of “goodness” not the “goodness” itself. The rules can be followed by evil people who are preoccupied with looking good. Get past the rules. Enter into a heart relationship with God, so that His goodness can be part of who you are. Then you won’t have to be following all those silly rules.
So, would Jesus have been found with George Carlin? Would they have enjoyed a good laugh together? Would Jesus have been so “put off” by Carlin’s salty language and “vulgar” routines that He would not have associated with such a person? More to the point, would he have judged George Carlin? Would he have said: “He’s not one of us”? I think his response today would be the one he gave in Luke 9:49-50: “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” And yes, He and George would have enjoyed a good laugh.