Jesus and Satire

Did Jesus Have a Sense of Humor? – Jesus the Satirist

Jesus and SatireIn 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.

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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.

  1. 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 []
  2. “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 []