I've discovered one of the quickest ways to get folks to consider the possibility that the Bible contains comedy is to remind them that Jesus taught in parables, aka riddles.
While we probably don't usually think of parables as riddles -- we're traditionally taught they're simple analogies of everyday Galilean life that Jesus used to explain, clearly, the mysteries of God and God's Kingdom - when we delve a little more deeply into these "little ditties" we see all sorts of strange and maybe even upsetting details and/or implications that lead us to wonder what in the world Jesus is talking about. Even so, we invariably hold onto the notion that Jesus' parables are supposed to be obvious (and if we were better or more faithful people, we'd easily get them….)
The Comic Lens invites you to calls 'em as you sees 'em. They're riddles! Short, deceptive conundrums intended to make us shake and scratch our heads. And maybe, just maybe, laugh at their punch lines. If we dare…..
Jesus weirdly said to his disciples as he introduced them to his parabolic teaching style:
To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that 'they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.' (Mark 4:11-12)
Whaat? How can Jesus, Mr. Best Nicest Most Compassionate Messiah Ever, even begin to entertain the idea of of intentionally confusing anyone, especially outsiders, and for the purposes of preventing understanding and connection with God?
On top of that, the next thing this scripture passage tells us (in Mark 4:13) is that not even the "insider" disciples have a clue what Jesus' parables mean.
Nobody understands his teaching! And, it would seem, that's just how Jesus wants it. Whaat?
John Dominic Crossan, in his wonderful book The Dark Interval: Towards a Theology of Story (Argus, 1975) suggests that the parables are intended to completely and instantly subvert our understanding of reality and leave us hopelessly confused.
Is this an approach you parents out there hope your teachers employ to educate your children??
Even so, according to the Bible, that's how Christ taught. So we can let go of any expectations that our encounters with the parables are going to be easy no matter who we are.
And we can hope we find the punch lines funny.
Here's one of my favorite riddles, er, parables of Jesus:
Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' (Luke 15:8-9)
This nice, simple story is second in a trio of parables about lost things being joyfully found. Parable #1 is the happy story about the shepherd retrieving his lost sheep. No. 3 is the one about the father rejoicing at the return of his lost, aka "prodigal" son.
What's there not to like, or find hopelessly puzzling, here, in #2?
Consider this. That first parable seems to clearly want us to know God as the Good Shepherd. The third is clearly about God the Compassionate Father.
Soo, does that also mean Parable #2 also wants us to know that God as...The Messy Housekeeper? And a poor woman to boot.
It is often said that the "Lost Coin" parable is about us - we're the one who's lost the valuable gift of faith in the disarray of our lives, and how happy we are when once more we find it.
Perhaps that's what Jesus meant, but it's odd that he sandwiches this message between two stories about God being the searcher/finder.
And, ya know, we now may wonder, what about those other two parables? If God is all knowing and all capable, why wasn't He (or is it She?) able to keep a sheep, or son, from straying in the first place? What else is He (or is it She?) not able to handle??
Who is this "Almighty God" and "Mighty Fortress Bulwark Never Failing" we're to give our lives to anyway???
I'm thinking Jesus now has us just where he wants us.
(And, if we're messy, disorganized people constantly yelling at ourselves to get it together or else, regardless of gender, we might just let out out a chortle or two…. )