In keeping with last week’s blog on laughter, let us continue the theme. There once was a debate in Scripture circles about whether Jesus ever laughed. I remember listening to a Christian radio station with the host saying that Jesus did not tell jokes or laugh, based on what we read in the New Testament. Jesus was deadly serious and came to suffer and die and pay for our sins on the cross.
Callers into his radio show tried to say that Jesus was being humorous in this particular passage or another, but the host would not budge. We know that Jesus wept, he said, giving the chapter and verse, but the Bible never says he laughed.
Not tied so much to the chapter-and-verse interpretation of Scripture, Catholicism takes a slightly different view, more open and refreshing. We leave room for reason and plain old common sense. I remember when I brought up the laughter issue with a Scripture scholar, he asked, “Was Jesus human?” The answer, of course, was yes. “Then Jesus laughed. At the very least, he laughed as a baby.”
Case closed. So we can all keep those pictures of Jesus laughing on our walls. There’s even a website, www.jesuslaughing.com.
More recently a friend asked me who said this in Bible? “Later you will laugh.” I was stumped. I guessed one of the psalmists. Wrong. While there is reference to laughter in the Psalms, it was Jesus who uttered the laugh line. We find it in the Gospel of Luke chapter 6, verse 21, as part of the Sermon on the Plain. It is sort of a shorthand version of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus presents some stark contrasts or antitheses. “Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who now weep, for later you will laugh.”
Jesus does refer to laughter. I think so many of us miss these words because of the familiar cadence of the contrasts: hunger – filled. Weep – laugh. We don’t focus on what is said. Of course, a few lines later, Jesus warns those who are now laughing that later they will weep, so he doesn’t give an unqualified endorsement of earthly amusement.
The point is that Jesus presents laughter as a reward, a fulfillment, that will make life more livable. Laughter is good. Laughter is Catholic. There is a rhyme attributed to the early 20th century Catholic controversialist Hillaire Belloc that tidily sums up the Catholic ethic when it comes to food, drink and laughter. He wrote against a cheerless Calvinism that is always threatening some strains of Catholic thought:
Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine,
There’s always laughter and good red wine.
At least I’ve always found it so.