Lent (Day 7) — “Why So Gloomy,” continued

Continuing to look at Martin’s “brief but 100% accurate” historical overview of humor and laughter in the Church tradition.  In the selection I read today, he examines another Old Testament story, that of Jonah.  This, he argues convincingly is full of humor.  The premise is that God has chosen Jonah to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh.  As they are the enemies of his people, Jonah has no desire to save the people of Nineveh from themselves.  So, instead of answering the call, the tries to flee, but the ship he takes is overtaken by a great fish (the type of sea animal is not specified) which swallows the ship, and spits Jonah up on the coast by Nineveh.  To his surprise, Jonah’s message is heard, and the people of Nineveh are saved because they repent.  Jonah is upset, and he and God have a discussion about his “attitude.”  

The story is a folktale — it has the monstrous fish, and it has the foolish person who thinks he can escape from the directive of God, but will soon learn the error of his ways.  Folktales bring joy out of their sense of the fantastic, and this does not fail in this regard.  But Jonah’s attitude is over-the-top as well, so that there is a great deal of humor in how Jonah reacts to things, and his total self-absorption.  

Returning to the New Testament, Martin notes that the primary focus of the Gospels we have is the Passion (it makes up about half of John’s gospel, and almost as much of the other gospels).  That focus perhaps proved necessary.  After all, the good news involved a suffering God (not usual, and certainly a far cry from the Messiah expected) and that crucial point of the Jesus story needed to be presented in more detail.  And so, some of the humorous moments may have seemed inappropriate given the cosmic significance of the crucifixion and the pain and sorrow of that event.  Still, there are stories of Jesus enjoying himself, stories that likely would be expanded if the focus of the Gospels was different, or if the Gospels were longer.  The parables hint at that humor, as does Jesus’ playful naming of Simon as Peter (“Rocky”).  

I’m guessing that Martin will make the case that we should not argue from the small amount of humor in the New Testament that the message was that we should all be Gloomy Gusses focusing on death and our unworthiness relative to God’s majesty.  On that, we’ll just have to wait and see.  

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