Tuesday, April 1st, 2014 – The Fourth Tuesday in Lent
While Jesus Was in the Desert, Did He Ever Laugh?
Laughter, so the pundits say, is the best medicine. To be able to laugh in the face of grave difficulty is an art form and a balm that makes Gilead blush. In order to laugh, we have to be free: free from day-to day concerns, free from non-localized anxiety, free from dreaded outcomes. When we laugh, God is close. Dorothy Sayers, the English mystery writer and mystic, said, “Where Christ is, cheerfulness is breaking in.” Yes. Joy is the quality ever present inside the Trinity. Laughter signals the presence of joy as smoke signals fire.
I honestly don’t know if Jesus laughed in the desert. I like to think he did. I like to think of Him watching a scorpion in his natural habitat trying to undo the Son of Man with a bravado reserved for the deluded or truly brave. I imagine that scorpion squaring off against the Author of Life and doing his level best to intimidate and threaten. After watching awhile, I see Jesus picking up the scorpion and holding him in a way that renders his tail impotent. Then He chuckles, initially just enjoying the scene, but gradually taking in all of the irony. I see Jesus leaning, careless and spontaneous, as He involuntarily raises His arm while His face arches skyward. He is mocking the Enemy who thought that physical injury, or worse death, could undo Him. His chuckle gets wings and then His laughter is on the air in a way that makes the birds fly in circles to see it. He is prefiguring St. Francis, at one with creation and the animal kingdom, and He lets the scorpion down gently, not judging him for trying to do his job, but amused that the Enemy’s agent thought he had enough to undo the Works of God.
C.S. Lewis has said the two things which the Devil cannot bear is to have Scripture quoted to him and to be laughed at. The power of true knowledge is strong; the power of laughter is decisive. The business of God is so important that it demands laughter. How ironic that we think His business is so important that we rarely laugh about it at all.
Comedy Central, a television channel which enjoys huge appreciation from the coveted (and less than ardently church-going) 18-29 year old crowd, is a predictable enough phenomenon. Many at Christ Church grew up on Johnny Carson, who was antiseptic by today’s comedy standards. The trajectory from him to Howard Stern is more organic than we admit; the roots in both can be found in Groucho Marx. In all timelessly funny comedians, there is joy, irony, and an obsession with exposing hypocrisy. We all want hypocrisy exposed, but we want it exposed in the manner of good cough syrup: we want the flavor to mask the true medicine. The reason that people are laughing so raucously in the theaters these comedians are filling is that they want to hear the truth, but in terms they can talk about in polite company.
Honestly, we can’t imagine Jesus laughing in the desert, or anywhere else. Why? Because Jesus was rarely polite.
I’m not willing to concede the delivery of truth in our day to comedians, our modern version of the court jesters who could speak the truth so long as it left people laughing. I’m hoping that we can speak the truth, our truth, just as distinctly. How? By letting our irony include ourselves.
Jesus laughed, alright. Just not in a Comedy Central way. He laughed in the way that all people do when they know that Truth is trumping Reality and they’re the first ones to get the joke.
Questions of the day: What makes me laugh? What is the truth I feel underneath my laughter?
– Christopher Powell