Maybe it goes with the territory, but –apparently- many comedians are supremely unfunny close to. Woody Allen, Jim Carrey, Robin Williams, and David Letterman, for example, have all been diagnosed with major depressive disorders. I was reading a Psychology Today study that flagged up the enormous pressure on public speakers and celebrities to “consistently deliver” their performance day by day, not just onstage, but in the nitty gritty of personal conversation.
Which is why it’s amazing, in this regard, to see how gently, how teasingly, Jesus dealt with those closest to him, when the pressure was on and the knives of his critics were always awaiting their moment to stab.
It’s those closest to us who know us best. And it was those closest to Jesus who witnessed and recorded several moments of loving raillery.
Think of those nicknames, for a moment. When Jesus first saw Simon he was anything but stable. His oscillating, vacillating character flared up time and time again in his association with the Lord. Yet Jesus called him Peter, a rock, stable, firm. You can almost imagine the locals rolling their eyes at a nickname that was so opposite to his real nature.
And yet, within the joke, is another joke: the promise of what Peter would become.
There was less of a joke, perhaps, in nicknaming James and John “Boanerges” which means “Sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). This is well seen later when James and John wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy a Samaritan village that didn’t welcome Jesus (Luke 9:54). The name apparently didn’t stick for it is otherwise unmentioned in the Bible. Why was it given? The Expositor’s Greek Testament suggests, “It may have been an innocent pleasantry in a society of free, unrestrained fellowship, hitting off some peculiarity of the brothers.”
Another suggestion here is that “Sons of thunder” relates to their mother, who, you remember, took it upon herself to pester Jesus with requests that her boys got top table treatment in the coming kingdom (Matt 20:21). So was it a little barb at a bossy woman?
Think too of the sheer absurdity of some of his stories. It’s clearly a joke, for example, to think of some homemaker buying a glossy new table lamp and putting it in a drawer, or under the bed, before flicking the On switch. Sure, Jesus was talking about the way we should let our influence shine in the community where we live, and he illustrated, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:15). Yet some believers never witness for their Lord at work, school, play, home or neighborhood. But it’s the joke that makes that truth unforgettable.
Jesus often chatted about worry, in the same absurdist vein. How we worry! So he painted the crazy picture of birds sowing in the spring, reaping in the fall, then binding the sheaves together and storing them in barns (Matthew 6:26). Picture a seagull running a Combine Harvester. It’s like a scene from Madagascar.
So how much better than birds are God’s children! And think of that analogy, too. It doesn’t occur to healthy kids to fret about whether their parents will feed and clothe them. They don’t squat, head in hand at the corner of the playground worrying about what to eat for dinner. Will my folks give me any food?” They trust completely. We should too. And, rubbing it in, in an unforgettable one-liner, Jesus asked, “What man is there of you, whom if his son ask for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he ask for a fish, will he give him a serpent?” (Matthew 7:9,10).
Eugene Peterson’s context-picture is fantastic here: “Don’t bargain with God. Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. If your child asks for bread, do you trick him with sawdust? If he asks for fish, do you scare him with a live snake on his plate? As bad as you are, you wouldn’t think of such a thing. You’re at least decent to your own children. So don’t you think the God who conceived you in love will be even better?”
- It’s ok to be boss but not to be bossy? (tithebarn.wordpress.com)
- Be the lamp stand. (regularfaith.wordpress.com)
- A Place for Grace (Part II) (takingtheallieway.wordpress.com)