In our meditation on The Laughter of Christ, we talked about how Jesus must have had a great sense of humor. Finding examples of the Nazarene’s humor isn’t easy though when reading the Gospels. Some folks have pointed towards Jesus’s admonition that we shouldn’t worry about the speck in our brother’s eye when we have a beam in our own as one example. But that is a bit of a stretch.
All things considered, Jesus the humorist wasn’t likely a joke teller or smug connoisseur of witty epigrams. He undoubtedly was a satirist: the wielder of that eclectic humor which, to this day, continues to be the most effective way to speak truth to power and expose our petty egoism. Stephen Colbert proved this brilliantly in his now legendary take down of President Bush (and the journalists who cover him) at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
Satire is an insiders’ game. Many people don’t get it, while others think that the satirist is actually serious. It would have been the perfect kind of humor for a prophet like Jesus, who loved to teach in enigmatic parables and metaphors, and who wouldn’t reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to just anyone.1 He also of course hated hypocrites,2 who are notoriously the subject of so much satire.
Jesus’s greatest bit of satire comes ironically (or perhaps not so ironically) in the episode we celebrate on Palm Sunday. Jesus we are told comes riding into Jerusalem on an ass, and afterwards, being hungry, gets angry at a fig tree for bearing no fruit, even though it is out of season.
Like those Republicans who think that Stephen Colbert really is a conservative Republican, many of the early Christians who passed down Jesus’s story simply didn’t get it. They interpreted it through their ordinary blinders of Old Testament prophecy, as well as the belief that prayer can literally move mountains or part the Red Sea.
Today, let’s go back and re-read Matthew Chapter 21 and imagine Stephen Colbert (or Mark Twain) riding the ass and berating the fig tree. Palm Sunday will take on a new, and perhaps richer, meaning.
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- Afterwards his disciples came to him, and said: “Why do you speak to them in parables?” “To you,” answered Jesus, “the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given, but not to them. – Matthew 13:10-12 [↩]
- “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, hypocrites that you are! You pay tithes on mint, fennel, and caraway seed, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and good faith. These last you ought to have put into practice, without neglecting the first. You blind guides, to strain out a gnat and to swallow a camel! Woe to you, teachers of law and Pharisees, hypocrites that you are! – Luke 23:23-25 [↩]
Gospel of Matthew 21
When they had almost reached Jerusalem, having come as far as Bethphage, on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent on two disciples. 2 “Go to the village facing you,” he said, “and you will immediately find a donkey tethered, with a foal by her side; untie her, and lead her here for me. 3 And, if anyone says anything to you, you are to say this: ‘The Master wants them’; and he will send them at once.” 4 This happened in fulfillment of these words by the prophet: 5 ‘Say to the daughter of Zion: Behold, thy King is coming to thee, Gentle, and riding on an ass, and on the foal of a beast of burden.’”
6 So the disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They led the ass and the foal back, and, when they had put their cloaks on them, he seated himself upon them. 8 The immense crowd of people spread their cloaks in the road, while some cut branches off the trees, and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that led the way, as well as those that followed behind, kept shouting: “God save the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! God save him from on high!”
10 When he had entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred, and asked: 11 “Who is this?”, to which the crowd replied: “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” 12 Jesus went into the temple courts, and drove out all those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of the pigeon-dealers, 13 And said to them: “Scripture says: ‘My House shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it ‘a den of thieves.’”
14 While he was still in the temple courts, some blind and some lame people came up to him, and he cured them. 15 But, when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things that Jesus did, and the boys who were calling out in the temple courts, “God save the Son of David!”, they were indignant, 16 And said to him: “Do you hear what these boys are saying?” “Yes,” answered Jesus; “but did you never read the words: ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou has called forth perfect praise’?”
17 Then he left them, and went out of the city to Bethany, and spent the night there. 18 The next morning, in returning to the city, Jesus became hungry; 19 And, noticing a solitary fig tree by the road-side; he went up to it, but found nothing on it but leaves. So he said to it: “Never again shall fruit be gathered off you.” And suddenly the fruit tree withered up.
20 When the disciples saw this, they exclaimed in astonishment: “How suddenly the fig tree withered up!” 21 “I tell you,” replied Jesus, “if you have faith, without ever a doubt, you will do what not only has been done to the fig tree, but, even if you should say to this hill: ‘Be lifted up and hurled into the sea!’ it would be done. 22 And whatever you ask for in your prayers will, if you have faith, be granted you.” 23 After Jesus had come into the temple courts, the chief priests and the councilors of the nation came up to him as he was teaching, and said: “What authority have you to do these things? Who gave you this authority?”
24 “I, too,” said Jesus in reply, “will ask you one question; if you will give me an answer to it, then I, also, will tell you what authority I have to act as I do. 25 It is about John’s baptism. What was its origin? Divine or human?” But they began arguing among themselves: “If we say, ‘divine,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did not you believe him?’ 26 But if we say, ‘human’, we are afraid of the people, for everyone regards John as a prophet.” 27 So the answer they gave Jesus was: “We do not know.”
To continue reading Chapter 21 of the Gospel of Matthew please click on page 2 below.
In the Beginning the Word was; and the Word was with God; and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God; 3 Through him all things came into being, and nothing came into being apart from him. 4 That which came into being in him was life; and the life was the light of all; 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness never overpowered it.
6 There appeared a man sent from God, whose name was John; 7 He came as a witness: to bear witness to the light that through him all men might believe. 8 He was not the Light, but he came to bear witness to the Light. 9 That was the true Light which enlightens all who come into the world. 10 He was in the world; and through him the world came into being, yet the world did not know him.
11 He came to his own, yet his own did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him he gave power to become Children of God, to those who believe in his name. 13 For not to natural conception, nor to earthly passions, nor to human will did they owe the new life, but to God.
14 And the Word became Man, and dwelt among us. We saw his glory—the glory of the only Son sent from the Father, full of love and truth. 15 John bores witness to him; he cried aloud—for it was he who spoke: “‘He who is Coming’ after me is now before me, for he was ever first;” 16 Out of his fullness we have all received some gift, gift after gift of love; 17 For the law was given through Moses, but love and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever yet seen God; the only begotten Son, who is ever with the Father—He has revealed him.
19 When the Jews sent some priests and Levites to John from Jerusalem, to ask, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did answer: “I am not the Christ.” 21 “What then?” they asked. “Are you Elijah?” “No,” he said, “I am not.” “Are you ‘the prophet’?”
He answered, “No.” 22 “Who then are you?” they continued; “tell us, that we may have some answer to give to those who have sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said: “I am the voice of one crying aloud in the wilderness; make straight the way of the Lord,” as the prophet Isaiah said.”
24 These men had been sent from the Pharisees; 25 And their next question was: “Why then do you baptize, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor yet ‘the prophet’?” 26 John’s answer was: “I baptize with water, but among you stands one whom you do not know; 27 He is coming after me, yet I am not worthy even to unfasten his sandal.” 28 All this took place at Bethany, across the Jordan, where John was then baptizing.
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming towards him, and exclaimed: “Here is the Lamb of God, who is to take away the sin of the world! 30 It was of him that I spoke when I said: ‘After me there is coming a man who is now before me, for he was ever first.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but, that he may be made known to Israel, I have come, baptizing with water.”
32 John also made this statement: “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of the heavens, and it remained upon him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water, he said to me: ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining upon him—he it is who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 This I have seen myself, and I have declared my belief that he is the Son of God.”
35 The next day, when John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 He looked at Jesus as he passed and exclaimed: “There is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and followed Jesus. 38 But Jesus turned round, and saw them following. “What are you looking for?” he asked.
They answered: “Rabbi,” (or, as we would say, “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come, and you shall see,” he replied. So they went, and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was then about four in the afternoon.
40 One of the two, who heard what John said and followed Jesus, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him: “We have found the Messiah!” (a word which was being interpreted as the ‘Christ’). 42 Then he brought him to Jesus. Fixing his eyes on him, Jesus said: “You are Simon, the son of John; you shall be called Kephas” (which means a stone).
43 The following day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. He found Philip, and said to him: “Follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, and a fellow townsman of Andrew and Peter. 45 He found Nathanael and said to him: “We have found him of whom Moses wrote in the law, and of whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph’s son!” 46 “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” asked Nathanael. “Come and see,” replied Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said: “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 “How do you know me?” asked Nathanael. “Even before Philip called you,” replied Jesus, “when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 “Rabbi,” Nathanael exclaimed, “you are the Son of God, you are King of Israel!”
50 “Do you believe in me,” asked Jesus, “because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You shall see greater things than those! 51 In truth I tell you,” he added, “you shall all see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
To read the next chapter of the Book of John, please go to The Gospel of John – 2.
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Gospel of Matthew 24
Leaving the temple courts, Jesus was walking away, when his disciples came up to draw his attention to the temple buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” he asked. “I tell you, not a single stone will be left here upon another, which will not be throne down,” 3 So, while Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came up to him privately and said: “Tell us when this will be, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the close of the age.”
4 Jesus replied to them as follows: “See that no one leads you astray; 5 For, many will take my name, and come saying ‘I am the Christ,’ and will lead many astray. 6 And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars; take care not to be alarmed, for such things must occur; but the end is not yet here. 7 For ‘nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom,’ and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All this, however, will be but the beginning of the birth pangs!”
9 “When that time comes, they will give you up to persecution, and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations on account of my name. 10 And then many will fall away, and will betray one another, and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets, also, will appear and lead many astray; 12 And, owing to the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. 13 Yet those who endure to the end shall be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed throughout the world as a witness to all nations; and then will come the end.”
15 “As soon, then, as you see ‘the foul desecration,’ mentioned by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place,” (whosoever reads this let them understand) 16 “Then those of you who are in Judea must take refuge in the mountains; 17 And those on the housetops must not go down to get their things that are in their houses; 18 Nor must those who are on their farm turn back to get their cloaks. 19 And woe to the women that are with child, and for those that are nursing infants in those days!”
20 “Pray, too, that your flight may not take place in winter, nor on a Sabbath; 21 For that will be ‘a time of great distress, the like of which has not occurred from the beginning of the world down to the present time’—no, nor ever will again. 22 And had not those days been limited, not a single soul would escape; but for the sake of ‘God’s People’ a limit will be put to them.”
23 “And, at that time, if anyone should say to you: ‘Look! Here is the Christ!’ or ‘Here he is!’ do not believe it; 24 For false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will display great signs and marvels, so that, were it possible, even God’s people would be led astray. 25 Remember, I have told you beforehand. 26 Therefore, if people say to you: ‘He is in the wilderness!’ do not go out there; or: ‘He is in an inner room!’ do not believe it; 27 For, just as lightning will start from the east and flash across to the west, so will it be with the coming of the Son of Man. 28 Wherever a dead body lies, there will the vultures flock.’”
To continue reading Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Matthew, please click on page 2 below.
Gospel of Mark 11
When they had almost reached Jerusalem, as far as Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent on two of his disciples. 2 “Go to the village facing you,” he said; “and, as soon as you get there, you will find a foal tethered, which no one has ever ridden; untie it, and bring it. 3 And, if anyone says to you: ‘Why are you doing that?’ say: ‘The Master wants it, and will be sure to send it back here at once.’”
4 The two disciples went, and, finding a foal tethered outside a door in the street, they untied it. 5 Some of the by-standers said to them: “What are you doing, untying the foal?” 6 And the two disciples answered as Jesus had told them; and they allowed them to go. 7 Then they brought the foal to Jesus, and, when they had laid their cloaks on it, he seated himself upon it.
8 Many of the people spread their cloaks on the road, while some strewed boughs which they had cut from the fields; 9 And those who led the way, as well as those who followed, kept shouting: “‘God save him! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! ‘God save him from on high!’”
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem, and went into the temple courts; and, after looking round at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve. 12 The next day, after they had left Bethany, Jesus became hungry; 13 And, noticing a fig-tree at a distance in leaf, he went to it to see if by any chance he could find something on it; but, on coming up to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. 14 So, addressing the tree, he exclaimed: “May no man ever again eat of your fruit!” And his disciples heard what he said.
15 They came to Jerusalem. Jesus went into the temple courts, and began to drive out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers, and the seats of the pigeon-dealers, 16 And would not allow anyone to carry anything across the temple courts.
To continue reading Chapter 11 of the Gospel of Mark and discover what Jesus calls his house of prayer, please click on page 2 below.
Gospel of Mark 13
As Jesus was walking out of the temple courts, one of his disciples said to him: “Teacher, look what fine stones and buildings these are!” 2 “Do you see these great buildings?” asked Jesus. “Not a single stone will be left here upon another, which shall not be thrown down.” 3 When Jesus had sat down on the Mount of Olives, facing the temple, Peter, James, John and Andrew questioned him privately: 4 “Tell us when this will be, and what will be the sign when all this is drawing to its close.”
5 Then Jesus began: “See that no one leads you astray. 6 Many will take my name, and come saying ‘I am He’, and will lead many astray. 7 And, when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; such things must occur; but the end is not yet. 8 For ‘nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;’ there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. This will be but the beginning of the birth-pangs.”
9 “See to yourselves! They will betray you to courts of law; and you will be taken to synagogues and beaten; and you will be brought up before governors and kings for my sake, that you may bear witness before them. 10 But the gospel must first be proclaimed to every nation. 11 Whenever they betray you and hand you over for trial, do not be anxious beforehand as to what you shall say, but say whatever is given you at the moment; for it will not be you who speak, but the Holy Spirit.”
12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; and children will turn against their parents, and cause them to be put to death; 13 And you will be hated by everyone on account of my name. Yet the man that endures to the end shall be saved.”
14 “As soon, however, as you see ‘the abomination of desolation’ standing where he ought not” (let those who read understand) “then those of you who are in Judea must take refuge in the mountains; 15 And those on the house-tops must not go down, or go in to get anything out of their houses; 16 Nor must anyone who are on their farms turn back to get their cloaks. 17 And woe to the women that are with child, and for those that are nursing infants in those days!”
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To continue reading Chapter 13 of the Gospel of Mark and the False Christs text, please click on page 2 below.