Several years ago I was reprimanded for telling a joke in class about Jesus. I thought the joke was harmless. Why can’t Jesus eat M & M’s? Answer: He has holes in his hands. I delivered the joke during my lecture about the crucifixion and resurrection theology. At the time it seemed like the perfect time and place for it. But apparently I was wrong. The next day an angry conservative Christian parent called the administration and complained that my joke was disrespectful to Jesus and the Christian faith. Ironically, just a year earlier, the keynote speaker at my school’s district-wide meeting was an expert on “the importance of humor in the classroom.” His message: Humor Enhances Learning! However, when I brought this up with the principal and the superintendent during the meeting that I was being reprimanded in, they sternly told me that religion was entirely “off-limits.” I tried to argue that the joke was not insulting to Jesus, but to no avail. I was told to “cease and desist all jokes pertaining to anything religious, especially Jesus.”
Is Jesus really “no joking matter”? Is it truly offensive to conservative Christians to make any little joke about him? And if so, why? And more importantly, WWJD?
James Martin is a Jesuit priest and author of Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life. In his book he argues that Christians have developed an almost unhealthy perception of Jesus as an intensely serious person who totally lacked any sense of humor; thus explaining why Christians are so dead serious about Jesus being “no laughing matter.”
Last year (January 25, 2012) CNN ran an article about Martin and his book. Below is an excerpt. (For the entire article, which includes a clip of him on the Colbert Report, scroll down to the very bottom of this page and click on the link.)
Besides, what kind of a person has zero sense of humor? I asked Eileen Russell, a clinical psychologist based in New York who specializes in the role of resilience, how she would describe the psychological makeup of a person without a sense of humor.
“A person without a sense of humor would lead to that person having significant social problems,” she said. “He would most likely have difficulty making social connections, because he wouldn’t be able to read signals from other people, and would be missing cues.”
That’s the opposite of what we know about Jesus from the Gospels. Yet that’s just the kind of one-sided image that many Christians have of Jesus. It shows up in Christian books, sermons and in artwork. It influences the way that Christians think about Jesus, and therefore influences their lives as Christians.
If part of being human includes having a sense of humor, and if Jesus was “fully human,” as Christians believe, he must have had a fully developed sense of humor. Indeed, his sense of humor may be one unexamined reason for his ability to draw so many disciples around him with ease.
It’s time to set aside the notion that Jesus was a humorless, grim-faced, dour, unsmiling prude. Let’s begin to recover his humor and, in the process, his humanity.
Needless to say, I wish that I could have consulted with Mr. Martin while being scolded for bringing some “Jesus humor” into my classroom. Perhaps he would have told my disgruntled administrators, along with the student who I “offended,” that Jesus would have been the first one laughing at my little joke. And if you read the CNN article (bottom of this post), you might be inclined to agree; Martin really paints a picture of Jesus as a master of comedy and wit.
So… do any of you find the below images and products “offensive”? Is South Park Jesus “going too far”? Or would Jesus be the first one crying with laughter? You tell me!