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The Rev. Eugene Stockstill

You may have seen a picture of “Laughing Jesus.” You may keep one in your home. But have you ever stopped to consider the question from a biblical perspective? Did Jesus ever laugh? One interpreter wrote a book based on the thesis that Jesus told jokes all the time. We call them parables. But did he laugh?

When it comes to laughter in the Bible, two texts roll on the floor in peals. The first is the naming of Isaac, the child of promise, so named because his mother-to-be laughed her socks off when she overheard that God planned to give a son to her and her husband. She laughed because, well, they were pretty old. The other is Psalm 2, which asserts that God always has the last laugh. Later Gnostic texts pick up the same idea.

Nothing in the canonical New Testament gives the slightest hint that Jesus enjoyed laughing. Of course, nothing in the New Testament depicts him as a tragic-faced, chalk-skinned peripatetic who looks like he’d rather be doing anything else. Such is the typical characterization of the one named Jesus. As opposed to, “I delight to do your will, O my God; yea, thy law is within my heart” (Psalm 40:8).

If you’d like something fascinating to study, Google the words “Jesus” and “artistic renderings.” You will find black Jesus, white Jesus, native American Jesus, etc. Have you seen Rembrandt’s portrait? There is also a lovely painting that Lottie Moon kept with her, in which a Chinese-looking Jesus sits and talks with those around him. Just sitting and talking. The point is that we tend to interpret everything, including the Messiah, according to our own background and biases.

For what it’s worth, here’s my take. Jesus laughed and cried and got angry and exasperated and loved telling stories and enjoyed in particular the company of children and women and older people and outcasts. That’s the biggest joke of all in the gospel, dyk? “The last will be first, and the first will be last.”

The Rev. Eugene Stockstill is pastor of Ebenezer United Methodist Church and Myrtle United Methodist Church in Union County.

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