" I do dinner in three phases: serve the food, clear the table, bury the dead. - Phyllis Diller
"When I played in the sandbox, the cat kept covering me up." - Rodney Dangerfield
"If I held you any closer I'd be on the other side of you." - Groucho Marx
"Time went by so fast I was younger at the end of the evening than I was at the beginning!" - Jane Voigts
All of these "one-liners" are funny (even mine!) because they employ the rhetorical device known as "hyperbole." Details are tersely, slyly and ridiculously exaggerated in order to make an emphatic point. Because these sentences on their surface are so bizarre, we know not to take them literally. But their implied messages -- combined with the cleverness with which they are divulged -- speak volumes, making us laugh as well as appreciate the wit - and soul - of the people divulging them.
Audiences love comics who are good at one-liners. They get to enjoy a performance with lots of opportunities to laugh. They get to hear jokes that are relatively easy to remember and share with others. They are showered with provocative ideas, as one-liner after one-liner after one-liner is zinged.
Jesus was good with one-liners. In fact, they're one of the most prevalent kinds of humor you'll find him exhibiting as you trek through the gospels
"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." - Matt. 19:24
“Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” - Matt. 7:3
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” - Matt. 23:23
[On Herod] "Go tell that fox...” - Luke 13:32
Each is terse, sly and ridiculously exaggerated to bring about understanding of an underlying point…and peals of laughter!
In case these ancient hyperboles don't exactly tickle your funny bones, I've taken the liberty to modernize them, for your (I hope!) increased enjoyment and edification:
"It is easier for the Chicago Cubs to win the World Series than it is for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
"Why do you glare at your wife loosening her belt one notch instead of your own gut which blocks your view of your feet?"
"Woe to you congregations of the United Methodist Church! You pay 4/5 of your apportionment in proportion to the total church expenditure reported on Table II, Pastor’s Annual Financial Report, excluding all benevolences and apportionments paid, capital asset expenditures, debt reduction payments including interest payments on such debt, and all rental or lease payments made for worship, education and office space facilities and have neglected the weightier matters of ministry: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced, but be sure to also pay your apportionments." [This is for the particular enjoyment of my dear UMC colleagues, one and all....]
[On Herod] "Go tell that Fox News aficionado...."
There's another rich bit of hyperbole in this Sunday's lectionary reading, at Matthew 18:22, where Peter asks Jesus how many times he needs to forgive someone, a fellow Christian. Seven times? (Seven is understood in scripture as a "perfect number.")
Jesus responds, "Not seven times, but, I tell you seventy times seven."
In other words, "Until the fifth Tuesday after the sixth Wednesday in August."
I especially appreciate the fact that Jesus' tough but ultimately wise, healing and liberating teaching about the need to endlessly forgive when you've been hurt comes in the form of a one-liner, something to make me laugh (or at least smile), because, like a spoonful of sugar, it makes the medicine go down.
And over and over again, until sometime next August....