Preachers, together you can know, often begin their sermons with a joke. These jokes space ornaments, brightening increase a somber sermon. Lock don’t typically serve a deeper purpose.

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What will preachers carry out this Easter—April 1, 2018? will certainly they do a hoax in passing, prior to digging right into the severe stuff? Or will certainly they take on the chance to execute something more?

It’s a rarely opportunity. The last time Easter dropped on April Fools’ Day remained in 1956. Due to the quirks connected in date Easter against the Gregorian calendar, the 2 coincide just intermittently. After 2018, the following one is 2029, and also then again in 2040—but after ~ that, no again in this century. April Fools’ day is not significant in Christianity, but it is the perfect excuse come talk about jokes in the Bible.

For a lengthy time I believed otherwise, that the scriptures was all heavy stuff. Ns based my best of Christian discipleship top top a really serious Jesus, and also I do the efforts to be a really serious Christian. Yet in college, I occurred to read Kurt Vonnegut’s essay “Palm Sunday.” Von­negut was not a Christian, however he was invite to preach in ~ an Episcopal church top top Palm Sunday, 1980 (alas, in march 30). Vonne­gut take away on Mat­thew 26, in which Jesus says, “For you always have the poor with you”—a text that is notoriously problematic for all sorts the Christians.


Miles Townes is a writer and teacher and an elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

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Vonnegut suggests that Jesus is not dismissing Judas’s problem for the poor, but rather do a hoax at Judas’s expense. To make the joke clearer, Vonnegut para­phrases it: “Judas, nothing worry around it. There will certainly be lot of of bad people left long after i’m gone.”

This, Vonnegut says, is a “divine black color joke, fine suited to the occasion. It claims everything about hypocrisy and also nothing about the poor. That is a Christian joke, which permits Jesus to continue to be civil, but to chide around his hypocrisy just the same.”

I uncovered this idea revelatory; it changed how I review the Bible. And not simply this passage—when you know what to look for, Jesus jokes all the time. The scriptures is full of jokes.

In Matthew 22, when Jesus is challenged with a question about taxes and also tithes, his response—“Give because of this to the emperor”—is a joke. This walk not average Jesus is no serious. A joke need not be frivolous or false, and also in fact the ideal jokes space neither.


In Luke, Jesus promises, “Blessed are those who weep now, for you will laugh,” i beg your pardon is not a joke but an proof thereof. In man 8, when Jesus speak the group seeking to rock the adulterous woman, “Let anyone amongst you that is without sin it is in the very first to throw a rock at her,” the is both deadly severe and additionally making a joke.

Perhaps the first joke in the scriptures is in Genesis, thing 4, once Cain re­plies, “Am ns my brother’s keeper?” His impudence is both astounding and also hi­larious. Many prophets usage jokes to an excellent effect: ns will suggest to Ezekiel 23:20, which includes so graphic a joke the I prefer not come repeat the here. And of course, Paul regularly used self-effacing jokes in his letters.

One factor we miss jokes in the scriptures is ours Puritan legacy of disdain for levity, which tends to structure the points Jesus claims as pithy ripostes or clever aphorisms—but no jokes. Over there is a logic to this: we have no trouble being fully human but struggle to it is in godly, so we should focus on what is godly about Jesus.

Yet as I gain older, I uncover I carry out not trust anyone who lacks a sense of humor. A sense of humor isn’t a substitute for ethical direction, of course—there are several vicious, abusive, and also violent jokes, after ~ all. Yet the capacity to tell great jokes (and acquire them) is deeply tied to our ethical imagination.

Explaining jokes damages them, however let me point out that jokes have actually structure, normally a premise and a conclusion held in tension. A an excellent joke in the sensible sense counts on our ability to watch the difference in between the people as it is and as it can be. A great joke in the moral sense, then, counts on our capacity to view the difference between is and should. A great joke can light increase the dark between the two, can aid us see one indigenous the other. Not everything that is funny is a joke, and not every funny joke is a great joke, but a good joke helps united state see the distance in between who us are and who we should be.


Who but Jesus ever saw so plainly the distance in between is and also should? that else had the imagination to grasp fully the gulf between heaven and also earth?

The jokes Jesus tells display us our predicament: do in the image of God but separated by sin indigenous God’s grace. The idea that the Christ who connected this divide could lack a sense of humor appears to me a stony-faced denial of Jesus’ hu­manity. Laughter is both human and also humane, an important tool to assist us cross the street to God.

Eugene F. Rogers, introducing Rowan Williams’s essay in Theology and also Sexu­ality, claims that “you have taken it once you gain the jokes.” I think this applies to the bible as well.

The lectionary for April 1—for Easter Sunday—is heavy on the heavy stuff, however it does contain one an excellent joke. In the Gospel analysis from John, Jesus finds mar Magdalene weeping over the tomb. Mary, “supposing him to be a gardener,” walk not recognize him. The seems favor exceptional understanding into Mary’s internal life, yet it is in any kind of case a joke. The is a joke about Mary’s failure to identify Jesus, but also a joke about the reader’s capability to carry out so. The joke is in ~ Mary’s expense and additionally ours.

It is neither stretch nor slight to say that the resurrection was a joke—and a good one. What more could Jesus have actually done come mock the human being that killed him than increase from the dead? as soon as we speak we space Easter people, we say we live in the light Jesus lugged to the darkness in between what is and what need to be.

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“Jokes deserve to be noble,” states Vonnegut. “Laughs are specifically as honorable together tears.” We have no difficulty with the Jesus that wept. This Easter, let’s grapple through the Jesus who laughed.

A variation of this article appears in the print edition under the location “The Jesus that laughed.”