When I'm considering a product on Amazon, I always read the most positive and negative reviews. The two extremes reveal a lot. If a negative review says, "I HATE this vacuum cleaner because even though it's affordable, and cleans well, it doesn't have a cappuccino machine attachment!" Then I know, okay, I should get the vacuum.
Jesus was fun to be around. We know that because of everyone who flocked to him: tax collectors invited him to their party, sinners wanted to share a meal with him, blue-collar workers would drop their nets to follow and become disciples. Can you imagine the kinds of conversations they must have had around the dinner table?
I'm fascinated by the way Jesus is perceived by his enemies, and the way he is perceived by his friends. One of his very best friends was a guy named Peter. Well, actually, we call him Peter but that's not the name he was born with. Jesus gave him the nickname Peter, which means 'The Rock,' during a time when Peter was being anything but stable and dependable.
So why would Jesus give a nickname like that to his friend? We have two interpretive choices: Either Jesus was being cruel by pointing out Peter's shortcomings. But that doesn't vibe with everything else we know about Jesus' character and his friendship with Peter. OR this is a peek into the type of friendship that Jesus and Peter shared. They were close enough friends that they could have an inside joke. It's like calling a fat guy 'slim.' Jesus knew who Peter was and who Peter would become.
It matters that Jesus was funny.
1. Because otherwise parts of the Bible make no sense.
If you think Jesus is always super-serious, then many stories are going to sit flat on the page. Or worse, they'll entirely confuse you. Theologian Elton Trueblood wrote a book called 'The Humor of Christ' and here's what he had to say about Jesus:
"There are numerous passages... which are practically incomprehensible when regarded as sober prose, but which are luminous once we become liberated from the gratuitous assumption that Christ never joked... Once we realize that Christ was not always engaged in pious talk, we have made an enormous step on the road to understanding."
One example of a story that would be incomprehensible with a super-serious Jesus is the exchange found in Mark 7:24-30 (it's actually told in Matthew 15 as well). I could write a whole post on this passage so I may have to save it for another time.
2. Because Jesus calls us to be joy-filled and good-humored.
We're not called to be like the humorless Pharisees, we're called to be full of praise, in awe of God's grace, and able to give a reason for the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. At one point in the Bible it's described like this: you know how happy a person is when they've been forgiven a large debt? [I think of the end of the movie It's a Wonderful Life] The weight of the world has been lifted off that person's shoulders. They skip down the sidewalk, whistling, so thankful for all that's been done for them! That's how we're called to live as believers. Jesus came to give us life, and life to the full.
3. Because having fun with Jesus is the Gospel message.
We sometimes say, "Jesus died on the cross to forgive your sins." But that's only half the reason! We're not just saved FROM, we're saved FOR. In the same way Jesus died and then rose again, we're called to let go of our old self-focused lives, and experience a new Jesus-centered life. Life is never the same after you've had an encounter with the living God.
The humorless are deeply offended by this Gospel message. It doesn't seem fair that God would show so much grace towards imperfect persons. They're writing their negative review, "Sure, Jesus can do the miraculous, and he rose from the dead, and he offers a relationship with the Triune God. But do you see who he ate lunch with yesterday!?"