Is 66:18-21 Heb 12:5-7, 11-13 Lk 13:22-30
Even in some of Jesus’ most pointed messages, as like this Sunday gospel, or in those ones of the prophets of The Lord, as like Isaiah’s text today, sometimes you can find some humor in the Word. Why is it there? How is it used? Humor sometimes can help us deal with the truth. It has been used when the Lord has been candid. It softens His image of not just of being a God of force and authority, as One “over us.” He also is a God-with-us, Immanuel, Who wants to relate to us warmly on our level, because not everything about Him has to be serious, as in pushing His authority around. His impression on us is not to be domineering, even if He happens to be God of all. It’s like some of the parental advice you might have once received, as you selfishly complained over something “wasn’t fair” (as meaning, you didn’t get your way),you’re your parent smiled at you, and you knew what line was coming from their lips: “Life’s not fair, dearie!”
God in Christ chose sometimes to use lightness or even some levity in dialoging with us over the wise path to take. Many of the parables, actually, have a light side to them. Think of a camel in the eye of a needle illustration about trying to pursue temporal, worldly riches over the soul’s treasures which actually do get through to heaven. Think of when they accused Jesus of being beelzebub or someone evil, and then He posed of what reason would an enemy attack and defeat a fellow enemy—as wouldn’t it be a sure way to lose a battle!?
The face of God is in Jesus Christ, His Son and Revelation, and He can be the surprising and understanding Savior to us. God shows He knows about the difficulties going on in this world of choice, such as of all the cheaters in life, who seemingly are getting ahead. Jesus teaches in today’s slightly humorous line, about who gets into the kingdom of heaven, as He says—paraphrasing it: ‘Don’t rush in to be the first in line for everything, for the last shall be first, and the first shall be last—in God’s ways of evaluating people.’ That’s a bit funny and surprising, as if Jesus is saying: ‘Yes, most assuredly, God sees humanity in their self-first manner, and the joke will be on the pushy and impatient ones.’ Those who have vied to be in the front, and at the expense of others, will find for themselves that the front spot they think they’ve self-made is actually the back of the line in God’s justice.
There was a NYPD traffic cop who showed some justice with humor in an extremely heavy traffic situation at the Holland Tunnel, as vehicles merged from five lanes down to one to get into a one-lane-out-of-the-city-only Holland Tunnel (unfortunately under road repair). The situation required about 30 minutes of inching along and figuring who was next with the right of way, but there were impatient drivers who tried getting around others by using the shoulder, or even part of the sidewalk, or of blatantly breaking the red light to block the intersection, so as in forcing their way through. The local NYC news channel interviewed the creative cop and lesson teacher. She said: ‘I tried being out in the road merge intersection to direct the tunnel motorists in, but it wasn’t helping much. It just was a matter of each motorist being patient for one’s fair turn in order. So, instead, at the tunnel entrance, I just pulled over the worse of the ‘creative line breakers,’ the cheaters of the line, taking them aside into a side off ramp, saying to each: We all saw what you did. Now I am only going to give you a warning, no ticket. Yet, by the authority of New York City, and her common good at this tense driving spot, I’ll ask you to drive down this off ramp, away from the tunnel, and then make two lefts, and get around to the back of the line, and try again. We know you can do better. That story of road justice made many a fair motorist smile.
Jesus used humor to bring home other truths, as found throughout Luke’s gospel. In Luke 8, He says that one should not hide their light under a bushel basket. The image of a person with a bushel basket over atop their torch or candle light is a bit preposterous, and is meant to be a bit funny. In the lightness of Truth: What’s the point of the light-but to shine?! As for our application as Christians, too: What’s the point of being a child of the light but to witness to The Light, and not to hide it?!
“Strive through the narrow gate.” Jesus says this message in today’s gospel, and surely we know it will take some patience and humility to do so, leading us to ask God for the grace to do it. “Strive through the narrow door” is another translation of it. Here’s a comical interpretation. Two government workers on a break downstairs in their building were in a Dunkin Donuts. One saw a very narrow 18-inch door for a broom closet off to the side, and they said to their co-worker, pointing it out, with a smile: ‘That’s the door to get out, so don’t order us too many donuts, or we’ll never get through it, and back to the office, if that’s the door out!” Back to the Gospel: Are there dimensions to this Narrow Door? From this Sunday Gospel lesson in Luke—the answer is “no.” It’s not so much about door size, but as about how our life is lived in the realm of morality, holiness and love, in and with God and in and through Christ. It’s not a measure of feet and inches, so even big and tall people will have a normal time getting through the Door, if they lived as a faithful disciple. Actually, the Door is a Person: it’s Jesus. There even is a little lightness is that illustration there.
Here’s a modern example of the same. There was a concert hall, which was usually held sold out events. Yet someone was given a tip of how to get in for an usher’s seat in back. ‘Go there to the hall at exactly 5:15 p.m. and see Back Door and mention my name to be let in before the public, and be shown the free usher’s seat. ‘ So, the person went to the Concert Hall, as instructed, and went around to the back of it, but there was no entrance at all there. Confused, they went around front to the ticket office to ask where the “Back Door” was—that they hadn’t been able to locate it. The ticket agent said: ‘Come on in, we’ll let you through to see Usher Al.’ Then, this person was let in for free. Then, it was explained. Back Door isn’t a building door out back; it’s a person! Al is nicknamed “Back Door” because he surrenders his usher’s seat for friends of friends to get in for shows. Likewise, The Narrow Door to Glory and the Door or Way to Salvation is a Person: It’s Jesus.
“Will there not be many who will be saved?”–so asked the man to Jesus in the gospel story. We do not learn from the exchange of an exact answer to the man’s question, but only that he, the questioner, was in a perilous state for his own soul, because, while he was in the proximity of Jesus in his life, he was not a follower. Jesus says that God will have to personally know you, as in already with some relationship of you to Him, for you to enter Heaven. Jesus points out in this lesson that this questioner was still practicing much resistance of God, and keeping God at a distance. This questioner did not know God, and God had not yet found openness in the man, so to know and love Him personally yet. (It is hoped later that the person changed!) There are people today banking on a plan of God to let just about everybody in—and that’s a foolish assumption—if you listen to this gospel and some other Lukan Gospel lessons. As with this man, with a little imagination of the situation, and including some humor—perhaps Jesus and some of the apostles had just seen the man trying to open a door just moments before, of which he couldn’t open, maybe due to it being locked. Now the illustration would have had a comical effect, meaning: ‘Don’t be too sure you can get into heaven, brother. God’s the One to open its door, so He’d better know who you are on its other side. Does He know you?
Wow! How poignant and true are these lessons of Jesus, even if touched with some lightness. This Gospel lesson begs the question for the hearer: Are they aware of their open choices to surrender and get to know God now? We can ask it to ourselves: Does God know me as His true and ardent follower, with a personal relationship taking place right now? Am I also willing to have the true communal relationship to follow Jesus with His body of believers, or am I presently living it? If the answer is “no” or “not really” or if it’s a weak “yes” to the question, then we can hear God’s request for that to change now for the better.
When one does have a good relationship of knowing God, and God to them, then we know that we can have a holy laugh about it, too. We laugh because of the kind consideration of God to us, to save a poor sinner, like ourselves. God offers it freely, not forcedly to us. We can smile that a mighty God can visit us in the measure like Jesus offers.
September 9th: Monday Morning Musings Laugh into Salvation.
On Sunday in the homily I spoke of the lighter side of Christ Jesus, about as He taught His lessons of the Kingdom. Here is a follow-up message to it.
When the company around Christ asked Him who was the best of their lot, and He saw an innocent child showing great interest in Him, and He picked up a child, and said: This one! Here is the best one among you!
Ah, once again, it is our Lord of surprises, with happy surprise to save His people and get the ones to Heaven who want to know and serve Him and share Life with Him. Forever.
When Jesus taught people on who would get into Heaven, He said it would be those who strived to go through The Narrow Door? Did people realize that He was speaking of Himself as The Narrow Door? It was with some lightness in His lessons that He led people to The Truth. In another Lukan lesson, we heard that a rich man only interested in his wealth, would be having a struggle ahead to get into Heaven, much like a camel going through the eye of a needle. It’s a vivid point, while in some humor, but meant to lead a person aright. That’s Jesus’ Way.
In the example of lifting up a child as the best one there, it certainly made some people laugh and smile back then, and Jesus likely smiled as when doing it. Using a light-hearted underpinning to His Word, He got His message across to them that day of how self-importance should not be the disciple’s way. We “get it” as well. The lesson is clear.
God reveals a side that is a bit more down-to-earth of Him, even a little funny, in those readings of yesterday (Sunday, 23rd Wk.). Just look and notice it. Isaiah’s Word is saying: ‘Strive to enter through the narrow gate, not the wider.’ At first, that sounds a bit off and funny—why would one take the harder approach and tighter way, rather than the easy or popular one? For instance, if a football coach told his running back, “If you see a big hole in the line, I don’t want you to run through it. I’d rather you take the smaller opening towards the off side of the field and get through it. “ The player-runner might think: “Well, that’s odd. Why do it?!”
It would be like a person wondering, of their life today, why shouldn’t I take the wider and popular way, even though it is of obvious sin, for after all, it feels good and I desire to do it?! But is it the best choice because of that?
Going back to the football coach’s play, his quick opener play off tackle right may be through a small hole, but if the player makes it through it, they’ll be no one left to tackle him on that side of the field, and it will lead to a touchdown. The coach may know something, by scouting, that when that team allows for the big hole, still most of the defensive tacklers will be on that side of the field to stop the play. Thus, it won’t work for a big scoring play. But the coach knows that a quick opener, off-direction play will exploit the defense of the opponent. The quick opener running play is called for its strategy for a big score. Likewise, God has His narrow path for us to live by and take so as to find victory in it–if we could trust God about it!
God’s Ways have been found out to be the victorious ones. The wise are catching on and running their life’s plays by God’s Playbook. We are changing by what God’s grace afford us, into becoming who we ought to be. This is the best laugh to have—it‘s a laugh of acknowledgement of our God in us. We laugh in gratitude that God loves us and has come to save us and has presented us the Way to have it happen. We have come to repent of our foolishness and to live by faith in God. He has the control of our lives, and we’ve been steered away from the wide road of perdition, for the most part (there’s always work to do in repentance and growth), and we go and take The Narrow Way, Who is Jesus.
Let’s ponder some more about laughter in the Lord. The movie Mary Poppins Returns has the ending of the film with people flying up into the air, as carried by balloons. How do they ascend like that? By not taking themselves too seriously. Jesus would want us to trust God, and not to get too carried away with ourselves. The film repeats a theme of its original Mary Poppins movie, in the song: I Love To Laugh.
I love to laugh—-loud and long and clear—–I love to laugh—–It’s getting worse every year—-The more I laugh—-the more I fill with glee—-And the more the glee—-The more I’m a merrier me!!—I love to laugh—loud and long and clear—I love to laugh—so everybody can hear!
In a situation in Luke, in chapter 18, Jesus says that funny thing about getting into heaven. He says that a very rich man on his own accord and self-reliance has the chance of entering heaven as like the odds of a camel going through the eye of a needle. What an image! But with God (and taking His narrow path of repentance and faith) all things are possible, even heaven for a person’s once enslaved in greed! The story is meant to have some humor hiding in its grand truth.
Humor is a gift of the Holy Spirit. One needs the sense to be able to laugh at one’s self, and at humankind’s folly versus God, and by coming to The Truth, and find it in the good sense of divine revelation. By it, we can have a Good Laugh of our Freedom in Christ! As God makes His breakthroughs in you, delight in it, and have some laughter, for by grace, God has saved you, by His marvelous kindness and consideration of you, a sinner! Say it in the song of Amazing Grace: I could be lost, but here I am found. ‘Could be blind, but now I see! ‘Happy me! ###
September 10th Tuesday Morn Musings of the Sunday Gospel message
Some more things to think about in the field of good, holy laughter…
[I borrow the following research off internet sites. I hope they are reliable.] Anthropologists have never encountered a culture where people do not laugh to express merriment and sociability; even deaf people sometimes laugh out loud. Babies begin laughing at the age of two or three months. The rate of laughter picks up steadily for the next several years, until around the age of six, when the average child is capable of laughing 300 times a day. After that, social training and the desire to blend in with one’s peers conspire to dampen liberal laughter. Estimates of how much adults laugh vary widely, from a high of 100 chuckles daily to a dour low of 15, but clearly adults lose their laughter edge along with the talent for ﬁnger-painting.
Some authorities view that decline as a blow to the health of body and spirit. When you laugh robustly, you increase blood circulation, work your abdominal muscles, raise your heart rate, and get the stale air out of your lungs; after a bout of laughter, your blood pressure drops to a lower, healthier level than before the buoyancy began. And there are subtler effects of laughter on the immune and neuro-endocrine systems.
Ok. There’s your scientific reason to let the laughter in to your Faith.
We ought to let God and the divine humor find us more ways to discover The Truth, and to let God provide us more reasons to smile and laugh—even just for the health of it, if not surely for our eternal concerns.
Why is this topic not discussed more? Perhaps our Judeo-Christian traditions, as in in art, have not depicted enough of the Savior and the saints smiling. Don’t you think we need more joyful depictions of it! For a while, it was not popular to paint anyone who was smiling. Why? I don’t know. My friend Dr. Emig, now passed, but once Professor of Dentistry at Georgetown, told me that even the Mona Lisa isn’t really smiling in that famous work, for she has a dental issue that is causing a smirk. I thought that dental theory to be a funny take on the Mona Lisa!
Although the Gospels don’t seem to depict the really obvious instances of Jesus laughing outright, my homily yesterday and this article are to show that there was humor in His life and His ministry. I also think Jesus had some big moments of smiling and laughter. It would be most surprising if He hadn’t enjoyed Himself, for instance, at the wedding ceremony and reception at Cana. Also, in a Resurrection appearance at the Sea of Galilee, I can imagine His face was chuckling upon His watching the apostles catch the 53 varieties of fish in the sea upon His visit to them, and of his seeing Peter jump out of the boat to rush and see His Risen Lord. You’d be hard-pressed to say, there and then, that Jesus was not be smiling and laughing in joy, in a time like that, for He was truly human. He would show His joy humanly. God in the Divine side also is full of joy, and loving to show it.
In a word that almost sounds like a dental ad: Let Jesus get into your heart and be with you and bring about the smile to your face that you need. Let Jesus, be your smile creator.
We hope that when we go to the Door of Heaven, Who, again, is Jesus (not really a door), that Our Lord will be most glad to see us when we arrive at Paradise’s entrance, and Jesus to say gleefully—‘George, it’s really great to see you! How was the trip up?!’