“Joking Jesus?”

by Bruce Jorgensen

Did Jesus ever joke? Did anybody joke with Jesus? This informal essay summons a motley crowd of witnesses and interlocutors — Buck Mulligan, Reynolds Price, Simon Critchley, Abraham and Sarah, Aristotle, Gerard Manley Hopkins — to help tease out some comic and humorous moments in the gospels: the calling of Simon, James, and John (Luke 5); the colloquy on “the leaven of the Pharisees” (Mark 8); Jesus exorcising the Syrophenician woman’s daughter (Mark 7); the early morning fish-fry on the beach (John 21). Critchley suggests that we humans are “homo risibilus — both ‘the risible or ridiculous being’, and ‘the being gifted with laughter’” (41). I think these bits of the gospels, these “good stories,” show us a fully human Jesus, sometimes joking or joked with; they invite us to laugh with a laughing God — perhaps mostly at ourselves, but also in the saving hilarity of his sayings and doings.