The Playful Humor of Jesus

At the time of writing this, Easter has come and gone again. But the story nowhere near ends with Jesus simply rising from the dead. For forty days he makes appearances to his disciples before ascending back to heaven.

Further, several accounts of his appearances have always made me laugh because of what I believe is the subtle playful humor of Jesus there and elsewhere in the Gospel accounts. In this article I want to highlight some of those moments because I think we often miss that playful humor. Additionally, I think we desperately need to recapture the playful heart of God who loves to laugh.

Why do I say this? Because we live in a culture (and sometimes church environment) that seems to be offended by anything and everything and because we tend to take ourselves and each other way too seriously. But I believe humor and playfulness can be disarming of even evil itself and evidence of a confident faith versus a fearful, anxious, and insecure faith. Some seem to think being spiritual equates with being serious all the time. But if God has created us in his image and likeness, how do we explain the universal experience of laughter, joy, and humor? Sure, people can have a very different sense of humor based on personality, age, gender, and culture, but around the world humor and laughter can be found; except in overly strict, severe, authoritarian, dictatorial, and terrorist regimes!  

So where do I see humor and playfulness in Jesus and the character of God? Well, here are some examples, the first three connected to resurrection appearances of Jesus.

Example #1: Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. (Luke 24:13-19).

Why did Jesus not reveal himself right away to his disciples? Is he being cruel in playing dumb with them and leading them on? I may be reading some into this, but I imagine Jesus is being playful with them. I can see him asking these questions with a twinkle in his eyes, barely able to contain his excitement to open their eyes and for them to realize he is alive! The disciples are defeated, traumatized, depressed, and confused. Jesus almost comes across near “giddy” to me knowing the joy that is about to wash over his disciples’ lives. Certainly there is a hint of playfulness in his interactions with them?

Example two: While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?  Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence. (Luke 24:36-43).

I don’t know about you but this story cracks me up. The disciples have the doors locked, but suddenly Jesus just appears among them! How did he get in? What does this say about our future resurrection bodies? Further, his statement “Peace be with you” makes me laugh. Sure, Jesus means that sincerely and seriously. But again, I can’t help but imagine him chuckling a bit at how frightened his disciples are of him. He even seems to “chide” them for their disbelief. And then, he asks them for some food and eats it in their presence, to further prove it is really him and not a ghost. The contrast between the greatest miracle and this most basic human activity is kind of funny to me!

Example #3: “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish? “No,” they answered. He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. (John 21:3-6).

Once again, I don’t think Jesus was being cruel in asking them if they had caught anything. I think this is another example of him playfully chiding them. I imagine this like a friendly pick-up baseball or basketball game where some “smack” is talked not out of anger or spite, but in good fun. Further, he is “recreating” a situation, starting all over in a sense, in helping them regain confidence in their calling to follow up. Once they come ashore, Jesus proceeds to then cook them breakfast on the beach! Again, there is something playful about all this.

I also think there was some level of humor and sarcasm used in some of the illustrations Jesus spoke in keeping with Middle East humor that we may not fully get as his original audience may have. For example, consider this imagery from Matthew 7:3-5: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Jesus is being deadly serious about being us being judgmental and he is warning about hypocrisy. But I can imagine there might have been some “snickering” in the crowd as they pictured the literal imagery Jesus was painting. Further, humor can be a way to “disarm” people’s defenses and open them up to consider truth but in an exaggerated form. Comedians are masters at this. They use exaggeration, humor, and sarcasm to get a point across. Heck, I think a case can be made that God even “mocks” his enemies in a humorous way that has a disarming effect over evil. Consider these two examples:

At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:27).

Some scholars and translations think the word used here for “busy” might more literally mean “going to the bathroom” as in taking a #2. Elijah is mocking the false prophets and their god “Baal” using some humor in a very serious situation. But this humorous mockery had a disarming effect in realizing Baal is no god at all as there is no response from him despite their insane attempts to get his attention.

Here’s a second example from Psalm 2:2-4: The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.

What this passage shows is not that God takes evil lightly. Rather, he laughs in the face of it because he is not threatened by it, taken by surprise, or dethroned by it. I will never forget being in Ukraine a couple months into the Russian invasion of 2022. What I saw and heard on that trip was among the most evil, horrible, and traumatic realities. Yet, what surprised us on that trip was how much we ended up laughing together. Not at evil; but in the face of it and despite its terrible effect. Part of that was a defense mechanism. Part of it however was not to diminish the brutal reality of evil; but to disarm the power of evil as laughter is a declaration of faith that God will have the final say no matter how “bad” evil may try to be.

If the above is not convincing to you, at least consider this from Proverbs 17:22: A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

This is where we get the saying “laughter is the best medicine.” There is biblical truth to this! And Jesus has certainly come to give us true joy; not take away our joy! One aspect of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is joy. Joy is evidence of him being alive in us! He turns our mourning into dancing, our weeping into laughter!

Yes, we live in a fallen, sinful, and evil world. But we serve a risen Savior who I believe has a playful humor. At the very least he is full of joy and has come to impart that joy into our hearts that we might laugh again and realize that in the end all our sadness will be reversed. That is what resurrection means. And therefore, we too can laugh, have joy, and not take ourselves so seriously all the time. Perhaps a playful humor can reflect the very character of the Savior we serve and draw people to the joy found only in him. Take God seriously…by lightening up. Jesus is alive and our eternity is certain!

3 thoughts on “The Playful Humor of Jesus

  1. Loved this! Thank you. I’ve always felt He had a sense of humor dealing with his disciples. Having a sense of humor has helped me with others. I think it helps them open up to you and it helps them feel comfortable.

  2. Good job! I too believe that we can enjoy our talks with God and Jesus and even His Holy Spirit. I cry when I am sad so why not laugh when I am happy!

  3. Ben,  thank you for sharing this message!   There is not much better than to experience the joy of the spirit  and live it!  It’s like the “Bell of Truth” when it rings, it’s such a wonderful release.  I LOVE a great laugh! Steve found a bunch of YouTubes on NDE  (near death experiences).   A couple of them experienced Jesus laughing.   What joy that must be! KimSent from Samsung tablet

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