Sunday, February 18, 2007

Blackjack Jesus

I have to say, I was a bit enamoured of my glib turn of phrase the other day. I even congratulated myself on my literary wit. However, Jean, in her generosity and brilliance, actually caught it by the tail and turned it into a catchphrase that I now love even more. She's just better at that than I am. Plus, her writing is just wonderful, and I always enjoy reading anything she has to say.

It got me thinking. I've been catching up on my blog as well as other friends' blogs, emails, and the like. Brock had sent me a lovely email a while back, and I read some of his always gentle and optimistic posts, despite some hardships he's having at the moment. His wife Auny had some interesting entries on her website about faith, too. Now, I'm not by any means a devoutly religious person, as I've said before. I consider myself a questioning Christian, if indeed I can call myself a Christian at all. As I've also said before--maybe not here on this blog, but I think I said it on Brock's--I believe that everyone probably has a piece of the God puzzle, and I also think that sometimes people get too bolluxed up in scripture, squabble too much over doctrine, and miss the big picture. Everything gets blown out of proportion so much that they forget what their original fight was really all about. And all I can think is, God is either up there shaking his head in defeat, or laughing his ass off at the silliness of the human race.

God and Jesus are gamblers and gamesmen. And their prophets? So was Bhudda, and so was Mohammed. Moses was a rather compulsive crapshooter, and Abraham was the most consummate poker player of all the prophets; the man looked God in the eye and bluffed Him down on Sodom and Gomorrah. The Earth is a giant casino, and world history as we know it is full of improbable gambles--not the least of which was the creation of homo sapiens.

I realize that people may look askance and aghast at me for what appears to be blatant blasphemy. If a hardcore fundamentalist got near me, I'm sure he'd be in fear for my soul and try to save it from the fiery pits of Hell. However, irreverence is not disrespect, and I maintain that a dose of humor to go along with theology is a healthy thing. It keeps you from getting into that bolluxed-up state I was talking about. Laughter is a universal leveler and it keeps things in perspective.

Jesus had a sense of humor, you know. What group of young men would drop everything they had--their families, friends, and livelihoods--and follow a guy who was somber, gloomy, and portentious all day and all night for three years? Galloping around the Galilee, depending on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter? I don't know about you, but I have a hard time believing the disciples would have stuck with Jesus as long as they did if he wasn't a fun guy to be around. The hordes of people who came from all over to hear him preach must have seen a dynamic and entertaining speaker--who wants to traipse out of town for a day to hear someone drone on with maddening brevity or hurling invective? Yuck. If I want that kind of crap, I'll watch American Idol.

Then there were the children; the New Testament tells the story that when the disciples tried to keep the kids from bothering the Rabbi, Jesus chastised them, saying, "Suffer the little children to come unto Me and forbid them not; for such is the Kingdom of God." Kids freakin' loved him--and anyone who has ever been around children for any appreciable length of time knows that they don't suffer fools gladly. If you scare them, talk down to them, or if they find you utterly boring and without any redeeming playtime value, they won't bother with you. That the village urchins were said to excitedly run to him whenever he came around says a lot for his charisma.

If you read between the lines of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John, you'll also find other examples of Jesus' humor. Man, it was sharp. Now, it wasn't the kind of humor we might recognize today; as far as we know, they didn't tell "knock-knock" jokes or have an ancient version of "Jackass" back in the day. Jesus' humor was contemporary and subtle; it was used in such a way as to illustrate a point to his flock, rather than jamming it down their throats. He loved allegory, metaphor, was a master of sarcasm and a lover of puns. Sometimes when I read the Gospels, I can all but see the deadpan delivery when Jesus confronts a situation so ridiculous, the only way to respond is with humor.

Take Luke, chapter 19. Zacchaeus was a short little man, and a tax collector--one of the most reviled--if not the most reviled--of men in that day. No one ever wanted to mix with tax collectors, because to do so was to soil oneself with a man in cahoots with Rome. Sort of like any member of Congress in today's world.

Anyway, Zacchaeus was really short. One day Jesus came to town and a huge crowd gathered round him as he walked through the streets. Zacchaeus had heard so much about the Rabbi and wanted to get a good look at him. So he tucked his pride in his pocket, skirted the edge of the horde, and climbed as far up a tree as he could go in order to get a birds-eye view.

Now, the idea of a tax collector debasing himself in such a way is funny enough. But when Jesus saw this short little man dangling precariously atop the branches, he stunned both Zachheus and the crowd by saying, in what I imagine to be a completely droll and straight-faced manner, "Zacchaeus, come down. I'm going to stay at your house tonight."

I mean, what would you say to a man peering through tree branches at you? You might smile and wave, or maybe nudge your buddies and point the guy out. Jesus went one better, shocking the assembled crowd by not only inviting himself to the sinner's house, but actually deigning to speak to the man. It turned everyone on their ears. And Jesus knew it. It's hysterical. Better yet, he won a convert with humor rather than force. That's an effective speaker.

Here's another example: Jesus came across a man possessed by evil spirits, and conversed with the demon, asking, "What's your name?"

And they said, "My name is Legion, for we are many."

Well, Jesus was about to drive the demons out of the poor man, but they begged him not to cast them back into hell again. So what does Jesus do? It's pretty cheeky. He says, OK, fine, I won't send you to hell. No problem. Instead, he knocks them into a herd of pigs, all of whom promptly went insane and careened into the Galilee like a flock of insensate lemmings--and drowned.

I mean, come on! That's funny. Jesus got the last word and the last joke, and thoroughly enjoyed showing Legion the folly of their request. You don't want hell? All right, but I won't guarantee what I give you will be any better. It's your funeral.

Blackjack Jesus. If you ask him a question or make a request of him, you better mean it, because he won't necessarily give you what you want or what you want to hear. What he will give you is what you ask for. He won't cheat; he's just better at the game. You say "hit me", and he will. Just don't complain when he knows the cards better than you. You take your lumps and suck it up like a grownup. Don't worry; he'll let you play again. That goes for God, too, by the way. Or Allah, or Jehovah, or Uncle Bob--whatever you want to call him.

One of my favorite examples of Jesus' humor--aside from some of the wonderful brilliance when he's talking to Peter (who, we must admit, was a little thickheaded and hot under the collar)--is this one, and I'm paraphrasing the first part:

There was a rich man who came to Jesus and asked him, "What do I need to do to be your disciple? What must I do to follow you?"

And again, ever the consummate Blackjack player, Jesus deals out the hand. "Oh, come on," he says. "You know the commandments. Don't cheat; don't steal. Don't kill, don't lie. Honor your father and mother."

The rich man says, "I've done all of these all my life."

Jesus was impressed and saw that the guy was genuine. So he calls the final bet. "There's only one more thing you need to do, then. Sell everything you have, give your money to the poor, and come along with us."

It's the only thing the man wasn't expecting. His face fell, and he walked away without a word.

Jesus watched him go, and then looked round at his disciples, saying, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God."

Contemplate that imagery. A camel trying to squeeze through the eye of the needle. It's one of the trippiest, most evocative, and hilarious analogies Jesus ever used. Even through his disappointment, Jesus was able to use humor as illustration, and people got it.

Take a look at the world's most sought after speakers. I don't care who they are; politicians, philosophers, preachers, or prophets. You'll find that every single one of them used humor to keep people interested and thinking. Now go look at your Bible, your Koran, the I Ching. See it?

Whether you believe that Jesus was the Son of God, or that he was a brilliant and insightful prophet, one thing is incontrovertible: He was human. As God's son, he was sent down to experience being a man. As a prophet, he was flesh and blood from day one. Men--human beings--get angry, get tired, get scared, get hungry and thirsty and sleepy. They cry, and they laugh. To say Jesus never joked or laughed or couldn't poke fun at himself is, for me, highly illogical and unbelievable. The guy possessed a rapier wit and intelligence even the Pharisees couldn't match. To me, that truly makes him the Son of Man.


Jean said...

To me, when he takes on the Pharisees is the most inspirational, though of course I take glee from seeing smartasses having rings run round them.

But yes, I agree that, tragically, the human side of Jesus is often under-acknowledged in most mainstream discussions.

Irish Girl said...

Oh, GOD, finally...I'mnot the only one!!! Yeeehaw!

..but seriously..

Yes, I agree..when he takes on the Pharisees, he's at his best. Totally blows them down in the ballast of their own hornswaggle. When you really look at it, it's an hysterical gem of sarcasm and wit. Most people don't even recognize it.

But then, Jean...I kinda thought you would...:)

Anonymous said...

hey girl. i am very impressed with this post. i agree with you and jean up there about the human side of jesus being underestimated. he was one of the guys. he did what other guys did while sitting around the campfire. he was holy, but human. i have often thought about the ugliness and the nastiness of jesus. if thats irreverant for people then they dont know who jesus was. he was fully man and fully God. if he wasnt fully man then he wasnt the savior, the messiah that was hoped for. i have much to say about this. i will keep it short so i dont fill up the comment box.

one thing that i love about you irish is that you say what you think without much filter. i can appreciate your sense of humor. i dont agree with you all the time but if you lived in nashville im sure we would hang out. i have the same approach as you on things like politics, religion, and life. from what i read from you i believe that i see things in a similiar way.

another thing that strikes me is this. you dont claim to be a true believer. i think you said you were a "questioning christian" at best. but you seem to have a better understanding of jesus than many so called christians. its sad, but most "christians" have no idea what they believe. dont mean to be picking on them. im actually just saying that i am impreesed by your thinking ability. and i like your vulnerability to say what you think.

ok sorry, worlds longest comment. this is more of a conversation than a comment. maybe one day it will be

Irish Girl said...

Thanks, Brock! Glad you stopped by; I was really interested to hear your thoughts. Yes, I agree--sadly, I think there are many Christians who don't really understand WHY they believe what they believe. I'm of the mind that it's okay to question; God created us with brains, so he must have wanted us to use them.

"i have often thought about the ugliness and the nastiness of jesus"

As have I. He wasn't perfect; he had a hell of a temper that I, personally, would not have wanted to mess with. He experienced weakness and rage and fear. It's an interesting subject that I could go on about for a while. It would be great if I'm ever down your way, or one of your shows comes up here, to hang out, eat chocolate, and yak about all this stuff for a while!

Leave as long a comment as you want; there's no word limit. I'm always eager for feedback and discussion, so write away!

Thanks again for the compliments! Hope you'll come back again soon!


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