Immanuel the Ne'er Do Well....

"The Smiling Jesus" by Michale Galovic

"The Smiling Jesus" by Michale Galovic

So, what about Jesus was funny?

I'm guessing this is one of your big curiosities when exploring the Bible as comedy.  After all, Jesus is the main character of the New Testament (besides God, natch) and the focal point of Christian faith.  If Christians are to have any basis for a claim that their spiritual walk should be characterized, and primarily so, by laughter and plenty of good humor, it really needs to be because their Master, Shepherd, Savior and Friend was hilarious.  And because this we know because the Bible tells us so.

I'm happy to say that in fact there is much to say about the comedy of Christ.  And it's not just me.  There are several good books on the subject.  A classic, and very good, is The Humor of Christ (Harper & Row, 1975), by the wonderful Elton Trueblood.  

I'd like, however,  to start my examination with a text that is not in the Bible -- and I'm not talking about Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Jesus Childhood Pal (William Morrow, 2004), the awesome novel by Christopher Moore -- although you should definitely check that out, too.

What I'd like to start with when it comes to Christ comedy is a text that was circulating as scripture in the early Christian world even though it never made it into official biblical canon.  It's called The Infancy Gospel of Thomas, probably composed or at least put into writing around 80 AD, the time in which the gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John were also coming into being.    

   

 

 

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is attributed to a Thomas who was probably not Jesus' "doubting' disciple."  This is a story about Jesus focused solely on Jesus' childhood years (a period of Jesus' life our official gospels say little about).  The Jesus we encounter in this story is a riot, figuratively and literally.  He's part Bamm Bamm, part Tabitha, and part whatever the name is of the character Billy Mumy played in that famous Twilight Zone episode were he turns grown-ups he doesn't like into jack-in-the-boxes.  

The Infancy Gospel begins with a five-year-old Jesus playing by the lake, fashioning clay pigeons out of the moist soil.  Someone snitches on him, telling village elders he is working on the Sabbath. When they come to chastise him little Jesus claps his hands and the clay birds turn into real ones and fly away.  Now that's a nifty way of weaseling out of trouble!

Things then get a little darker.  A young boy messes with the water Jesus has been playing in, causing Jesus to get angry and exact revenge, extracting all the water from the boy's body, drying him up like a dead tree.  This may not seem terribly funny, although when you consider Jesus has superhuman power, maybe for him that's like putting a sleeping someone's hands in a bowl of warm water so they'll pee in their sleeping bag. You know, typical slumber party stuff.  Needless to say, the parents of the dried-up boy (that's he's then called, a rather goofy-sounding name) are furious and give Joseph an earful.

   

 

 

Another boy then runs past Jesus, brushing him on the shoulder making Jesus especially mad and causing him to strike the "brushing boy" dead.  By now the whole village is up in arms and threatens to throw the whole "Holy Family" out unless they get Jesus to curb his malevolent mischief.  Joseph pulls Jesus' ear and tells him to behave (oh to see THAT in a Jesus movie).  Finally, Jesus chills and himself changes.  Jesus heals a boy who has died falling off the roof while playing with him.  He heals another who has bled to death when his axe came down upon his foot while chopping wood.

There are other wacky adventures and misadventures in the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, and its point, beyond providing truly lively entertainment, is to show how Jesus had to learn to dedicate his powers for the good and not for anything else.  

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This is a great example of a story about Jesus that is not literally "true", but absolutely "True".  What a vital message it offers Christ-followers about the importance of letting God help them consciously hone their talents and gifts, and what a fun, unforgettable way of teaching it!  

If you want to enjoy the whole Infancy Gospel, here a link to one version: 

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/infancythomas-a-roberts.html

There is of course more Comedy of Jesus to follow.  Especially in this season of Epiphany, when, traditionally, we are asked to embrace Jesus as the revelation of God and God's ways!

(...and even in the spirit of Thomas' impish Infancy Gospel.  Stay tuned....)