In the world of comedy one of the most popular and powerful weapons for garnering respect and producing laughs is the “comeback.” When someone insults or heckles you, instead of ignoring it or getting overtly mad, you respond with a witticism that condemns the cruelty aimed at you as well as puts you on top in the status department.
Clever comebacks show you to be more intelligent than your opponent (since wit always requires the greatest of smarts). Plus comebacks demonstrate noble character, since wit also tends to diffuse aggressive situations. The opponent is invited to laugh at himself/herself after witnessing their crack deftly transformed into the set-up of a truly funny joke. This of course is not always the case; the opponent’s anger at being put down by his/her put-downer can escalate anger and resentment, but even then the furious opponent looks foolish for not getting the joke they themselves inspired.
No matter how you slice it, one is always on the down escalator in the status department when they receive a comeback.
Comebacks are also deeply funny and fun to witness.
In our gospel lectionary reading yesterday (Mark 7:24-37) we were privy to a terrific comeback, one that put the insulter in his place, garnered respect for the insultee, hopefully made the everyone laugh, and, most importantly brought fulfillment of a most-impassioned request.
A Syrophoenician woman - a Gentile - asks Jesus to heal her demon-infested daughter. Jesus not only says no, curtly explaining he is here to feed the children of Israel and “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Jesus is being both mean and degrading in refusing her request and calling her this very insulting name. This is extremely uncharacteristic of our Son of God to speak and act this way, to say the least. But then again, maybe the point of the story is if the Messiah sometimes needs to transform and grow up, so do we.
Anyway, he’s called to the carpet by this Syrophoenician woman, who, instead of getting overtly angry, ignoring his slur, or slinking away defeated, says without flinching, “Sir, even dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.”
Fortunately, Jesus seems to appreciate the deftly humorous way she shows him up, and, really, brings him down. He says to the woman, "For saying that, you may go - the demon has left your daughter."
I would add at that point a demon has left Jesus, too. From that point on in his mission journey, Jesus makes a point of announcing the Kingdom of God he comes to proclaim is for EVERYONE. Long live the comeback!
As we are discussing a retort of another, and ancient, time, our modern minds may still not get how funny this response is. To help the cause, and in honor of the Syrophoenician woman’s crackerjack crack, here are a bevy likewise brilliant, witty comebacks for your reading and laughing enjoyment. Click the link below and you're on your way!
p.s. In case you are wondering, I can’t at this moment recall any great comeback I ever reposted when performing stand-up comedy back in the 1980's. Maybe that's because it was so long ago, I just can't remember. Maybe of course it's because my act was so appreciated it was never heckled. No, I'm sure I was insulted - that's part of every comic's experience - and I'm guessing the way I probably responded was to just barrel on through my act without acknowledging what was said. I know in choosing to ignore audience put-downs I was exhibiting deep-seated insecurity and propensity for denial. However, and on the other hand, by not stopping to address the interrupters I gave everyone the chance to more quickly move on to the climax of my act: a community singalong of the "Brady Bunch" theme song in which the best and most enthusiastic singer won a pantsuit! All good!!!