Just because we never hear Jesus laugh in the New Testament doesn’t mean he didn’t appreciate humor.
Laughter is indeed good medicine. It saves us from stubbornness, fear, and the temptation to take ourselves too seriously. Life is hard, but laughter can add sweetness and provide us some resilience.
A smile takes over the heart before lighting up the face
Actually, we can’t promote just any kind of laughter. One Father of the Church even says: “He who wants to laugh with the devil cannot rejoice with Christ.” There are bad kinds of laughter we all know about: sarcasm, jeers, coarse jokes. The Apostle Paul warned his communities against this in the Epistle to the Ephesians (5:4).
The expressions “burst out laughing” and “roar with laughter” suggest that laughter may cause one to lose control, or be dehumanized. In St Luke’s Gospel, the four blessings are followed by the four woes, among them “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”
But there is also a good kind of laughter — refreshing, friendly, and virtuous. The real comics love people. Their laughter makes everyone feel good. Their sense of humor and modesty go hand in hand and come from the same source –the human condition we all share. According to them, one doesn’t practice how to taunt others, but the art of giving joy. Perhaps, we’ll find different things funny, but we’ll smile a great deal more, because a smile is the joy that stays with us. It takes over the heart before lighting up the face.
In his sacred humanity, Jesus experienced and radiated divine joy
In the Gospels Jesus doesn’t lack a sense of humor. In fact, he uses it to cure the foolishness of his disciples: when he talks of the yeast of the Pharisees and they assume that he is alluding to actual bread, or when they fear starvation after having twice seen the multitudes fed.
I like to think about Jesus’ smile. In the Gospels we can see him sharing in our human joys: taking part in the wedding at Cana; blessing the chatty children whom the severe Apostles tried to shoo away; breaking bread with friends, and especially with sinners. He marvels at a field of lilies, a sunset or a small seed becoming a tree, and feels the solemn joy of teaching congregations in the synagogues; going on pilgrimages to the Temple; of the long-awaited “First Mass” on the evening of the Holy Thursday.
And there is also the joy of preaching: He exults in the Holy Spirit and praises the Father, who makes Himself known to His children. The most profound joy of the Father and the Son consists in their absolute love for one another: “with him I am well pleased.” Jesus in his divine humanity experienced and radiated this celestial joy that we also can share: “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them” (Jn. 17:13).
Father Alain Bandelier