I have officiated three funerals in the last two weeks, one of them was my mother’s. In the midst of these times of sorrow and grief, someone asked me if Jesus ever laughed. I actually liked the question.
We have no question about Jesus being “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief,”but did Jesus have a raucous belly laugh? We know that the Bible does record that “Jesus wept,”but we have no record that “Jesus laughed.” The Gospels don’t have “…then Jesus smiled, saying…”
In the absence of clear biblical data, dare we assume to use the “argument from silence”that Jesus did, indeed, laugh at times. I think we can use a chain of reasoning to answer “yes, Jesus laughed.”
Jesus was a healer. As such, he banked on the truth of Proverbs 17:22, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”Laughter as a beneficial experience in the face of trouble is repetitive in Proverbs.
Jesus was wise. If anyone knew the need for a good laugh in the face of opposition and struggle, it was Jesus. So, Jesus laughed at time. Like when he was told to be threatened by Herod, and Jesus responded, “Go, tell that fox…”I think he was laughing, as if to say, “Are you kidding me?”The metaphor of “fox”doesn’t mean sly and crafty, it means one who is not able to carry out his intentions (see Joel B. Green, “The Gospel of Luke”NICNT, 259). Healing and laughter go together. Threats (against a believer) and laughter go together.
Laughter can help lighten life’s burdens. In Jesus’time a rich person was considered to be automatically blessed by God, to be God’s “teacher’s pet.”Jesus comes along and says to poor people, “It’s easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for a rich person to get into heaven.”Reaction? Relief and laughter at such an amazing contrast. Others have noted that children loved Jesus. Do children gravitate to someone who is all doom and gloom? How do you hug little children without a smile on your face?
Jesus was a man of joy. He likened his presence to a wedding reception. No gloom and doom for those associated with him. Have you ever laughed or smiled at a wedding? Is there no place for celebratory joy at a wedding? Of course not. I cannot imagine anyone running around gloomily at the wedding of Cana moaning, “Oh no, Jesus just turned water to wine. Let’s all gather and repent!”I think I hear the father of the groom saying, “Are you kidding me? He did that?!”
If you can imagine no laughter associated with eternal joy, then I might agree that Jesus never laughed. I imagine Jesus coming out of the tomb with an eternal smile on his face. His joy is the joy that he gives us. A joy with no smiles and no laughter, to me, is a contradiction in terms.
There is a time to laugh and a time to cry. Wise people know that. Jesus knew that. There is a time for appropriate sorrow and a time for unfettered laughter. Jesus knew that, too. Holiness doesn’t cancel out hilarity. Exaggeration is the genius of much comedy. When Jesus associated judging others as someone with a log in his eye trying to get speck out of another person’s eye, I think he was laughing and provoked laughter in his audience (Matthew 7:3-5).
The last recent funeral I officiated was for an 18 year old young man who died unexpectedly in a dirt bike accident. At the end of the service, at least 14 dirt bikes were revved in the dead youth’s honor. A dirt bike version of an honorary salute. After the tribute, there were cheering, clapping, and hugs of joy and laughter. Deep sorrow and unthrottled joy mixed together to honor a loved young man. Laughter mixed with tears. Yes, it’s possible.
Don’t you think that there might have been at least the hint of smile on Jesus’face even as he was wiping the tears off it when he said, “Take the grave clothes off him. Let Lazarus go free”?