Posted on: Wednesday 5 February 2020
Posted in: Videos and Conversations
I was sitting in St Peter’s Church on Sunday when I heard a very brave statement in the sermon. The preacher made a reference to the death of Terry Jones and his role in the film The life of Brian. That reference, in itself, may not have been brave but the positive way in which he spoke of the film was. I remember when the film was first shown, there were many people who saw it as blasphemous, but the Monty Python group were not attacking Christianity, nor the person of Christ, nor the concept of religion but rather undertaking a humorous critique of society in First Century Palestine. Thus, one of the classic statements of the film is the question “What have the Romans ever done for us?” The film was also an examination of the foibles of humanity generally, but written against the background of the Gospel Story.
The point of the sermon was that religion should not take itself so seriously all the time and that there is a place for humour amongst the seriousness of faith. I thought as I listened that this was a good point to make for two reasons. Firstly, if we take the message of Christmas seriously then we have to take seriously the thought that God became a human being and that one of the traits of being human is a sense of humour. It could be argued that a sense of humour is one of the defining characteristics of being human; like verbal communication, jokes are uniquely human.
Secondly, there is humour in the New Testament, often explained away but there nevertheless. For example, in John 1, one of the early disciples, Philip, goes to find Nathaniel to tell him that he has found the Messiah and that he is “Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth”. Nathaniel replies “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Another example comes from Jesus’ own lips when he is asked about the wealthy entering the Kingdom of heaven his answer must have been given with a smile and probably a sad shake of the head when he replied, “Children, how hard it is to enter the Kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10 25) Now of course some scholars have interpreted this as referring to a small gate in the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, a gate which was so narrow that a camel had to have all that it was carrying unloaded before it could pass through. Yet no such gate has been found and so the saying should be taken as what it is, a comic hyperbole.
These examples of New Testament humour also show a side to humour that is often neglected: humour can be used for truly serious reasons and convey absolute truth. Thus, the answer to Nathaniel’s question is a resounding “Yes” and when he meets Jesus his prejudices drop completely away. The second quote has just as serious a meaning. It is easy, with our worldly obsessions, to miss the truth of Jesus and thus enter the Kingdom of God. Thus, humour is not antithetical to faith per se, but can be a component of it and a way to convey its truths.
Fr Patrick Duckworth