And he put a new song into my mouth, a hymn to our God. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will. To do your will, O my God, is my delight, and your law is within my heart!” R/ Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will.
I announced your justice in the vast assembly; I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know. PSALM 40 John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said,“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one…“I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from heaven and remain upon Him… JOHN 1
Intro: It is Ordinary Time in the Church, from last Monday Jan. 13th until Ash Wednesday, February 26th. One kid I know thought that Ordinary Time was “Ornery time.” His mother often tells the family kids, to “stop being so ornery.” But, no, young lad, we don’t have a designated season for orneri-ness!”
When I think of the word “ordinary” and the life of Jesus, I can’t help but think of how such an extraordinary person managed to stay so human, down-to-earth, and ordinary. As we went from Jesus’ birth and infancy to His Baptism in the Jordan, which covered about two-and-a-half decades with Him living on the planet, we conclude that He is a person doing ordinary things. He lives in a humble family, He obeys His parents, He learns, He works, He serves, and He prays. He cries, He laughs, He works hard and He relaxes. He deals with the everyday situations of life, in all their brokenness and trials. He has to deal with the death of loved ones, like the loss of Joseph. He sees children born into the world. Jesus mixed into the world matter-of-factly until His unveiling, His Epiphany or manifestation. We just celebrated the unveiling at Christmas season, but now we are in the Second Week of Ordinary Time, and we cover the time of His ministry start. From the Jordan, in the Bible verses following right afterwards, Jesus goes to Galilee region and starts calling disciples to follow Him. Yet it is all not just serious, as I would like to emphasize today the lighter side of Jesus, in a homily called Jesus and God and humor.
Right after this Baptism of the Lord account, of today’s Gospel, you go a few verses on, as Jesus has is out recruiting Simon, Andrew, James, John and Philip. A humorous moment happens, as Philip goes to Nathaniel to introduce Him to Jesus, saying: “We have found the Anointed One about whom Moses wrote of in the law, and also of Whom the prophets foretold; it is Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” John 1, verse 46. “But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Well, come and see!” The humor in that gospel section is, of course, Nathaniel’s blurting out, “What good can come from Nazareth?” Evidently, Nazareth had not produced much talent in its history, but was indeed a mere of the out-of-the-way place, like, once: (excuse me!), Scaggsville. Or Birdsville, Md. Or really–Bowie, Md. (Comedic people learn how it’s best to poke fun of one’s own home place, where one does have the right to kid, as I can of my hometown Bowie.) Jesus will over-hear this comment about Nazareth, but He will laugh about it and speak to Nathaniel. Jesus doesn’t get serious and defensive, but He likely lets out a hearty laugh over it. ‘Ah, yes, Nathaniel. My humble’ origins—or credentials—are not impressive! Nazareth has yet to leave its mark on the world!’ Then Jesus offers a friendly comment back to Nathaniel: ‘That’s what I like about you, Nathaniel, you’re a straight shooter. Honest. Forthright! I knew this of you, already, Nate, for I foresaw you quite figuratively sitting under the fig tree, as the right one to pick. I mean, your name means God’s gift, so will you be God’s gift to me and follow?
In this homily today, my point is to show how down to earth and even light-hearted Jesus was in life. Oh, by the way, Nathaniel signs up gladly, and later says “Rabbi, You are the King of Israel, God’s Son to us!” It is all a humorous exchange, one of many with the Lord. Nazareth did get famous, after all, by Jesus and St. Joseph and St. Mary.
What ordinary things might we do in our ordinary time? I propose today that we imitate God by having a sense of humor. Ecclesiastes says in the Bible of how there is a time for seriousness, but a time to be light, and a time for crying, but also a time for laughing. And do we ever need a laugh and some light-heartedness in these times! I will point out some more of God’s humor as found in Scripture, right after my attempt here to tell a funny story. A pastor went out one Saturday morn to visit a church member, though he came unannounced. At the house, it was obvious that someone was home, but nobody came to the door, even though the good father had knocked several times. Finally, the pastor took out a card to tape to the door, and wrote, cleverly: “Revelations 3:20 Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him and him with me. From Fr. Brown, 11:30 a.m.” Then, on that night, he happened to find a card taped to his own rectory door, reading: “Your surprise visit earlier, Padre, was noted. Genesis 3:10 I heard your voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. From your parish member, out of the shower and all clean now, and dressed. Saturday afternoon, 4:55 p.m.”
The Lord has a sense of humor. We think so because, after all, Jesus was truly human with us (as well as divine). How can He not have laughed with the people at the wedding at Cana? It was a happy occasion. He would have got them laughing with glee, too, for producing the save-the-celebration two hundred gallons of wine! ‘Right?!” The wedding party lasted for days. Jesus would have kept his continence in such situations, while also having a good time. For this, and other occasions of the happy Rabbi Jesus, the over-stern Pharisees attack Him verbally for His behavior, prompting Matthew 11 to comment, “See? They say that The Son of Man comes eating and drinking, like a glutton and drunkard.” Meaning, ‘Look at Him?! He is too happy, as if He is drunk!’ But Jesus was not drunk. He was filled with the Spirit, as He explained in Nazareth: “As Isaiah foretold, God has anointed Me in the Spirit with glad tidings.”
This is the Spirit that came upon Him, as we heard in today’s Gospel. In the Acts of the Apostles, chapter two, the apostles get filled with that same Spirit, and are so joyful of faith, even at nine in the morning, that the same accusation is made on them: “They have had too much new wine.” Peter explains, ‘No, rather, this is the joy of the Spirit of the Living God in us. It is passed on from Jesus. He lives!!’
The Lord Jesus shows a sense of humor in His Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus probably got surprise smiles, if not out-and-out laughter, responding to this remark: “Blessed are the meek//for they will inherit the land” (Matthew 5:5). What could be more foolish than this—the meek as inheriting the land? But that’s what the strong and forceful do, don’t they? Of course, this is humor used by Jesus with a purpose—to overturn our usual perceptions—but it’s humor and truth put together. This statement of Jesus’ is an allusion to, if not a direct quotation of Psalm 37:11: “But the lowly shall inherit the land.” But its context there in the Psalm seems to lack the rhetorical bite, and thus the attendant humor, of the expression as it is used now and appears in the Sermon on the Mount.
How could Jesus have not had a bit of humor or irony in His words, too, such as when He had said, ‘Can the rich get into heaven by their riches? Well, can that camel (over there) can get through the eye of a needle, unless God make it possible?’ It all sounds like a funny Geico commercial script, doesn’t it?! Or, do you remember His zinger about people who “strain out gnats but swallow camels?” There was humor there, in such communication and action among the people, even while, at the same time, Jesus was serious in His mission of saving people.
In many parables, Jesus uses the method of some stark comedy or exaggeration in His lessons, such as the one of the rich fool and his barns. The rich man loses everything in a night, because his life is up, and Jesus puts in the punch line, “So, then, who will get all his stuff now?” He adds, ‘Why not store up spiritual treasures, rather than just material, that can last to Heaven? Do not people know that earthly time comes to an end, when one does not usually know the time?!’ Comedic or ironic lines can sound harsh, if misunderstood, but they are used to be stark, pointed, direct, and attention getting. These lessons of Jesus and His use of language and action are timeless. Who can forget Jesus’ words, said with a wink, over: ‘Why be so concerned over the speck in another person’s eye rather than the plank in your own?” It is an incongruity He uses meant to prompt a kind of laughter. And a think-twice moment about it.
Sometimes people think that humor does not have a place in religion. Those people who have those opinions can be easily noted for their sour faces at a Children’s Christmas Eve Mass, or for stern looks over at a little boy pretending on the side pew how he’s a priest, too—imitating the presider’s every move. Yet, in such cases, don’t these sour folks recall how Jesus, when settling an argument among adults on who was the greatest, pulled a little child in and pointed out to them: This one is the greatest! He wasn’t rebuking the apostles with authoritarian stares; but with humor in the moment to show truth.
God has shown humor all through the Bible. Do you recall Baalam’s talking donkey, who could see angels? It’s in Numbers 22. That’s funny. Or, recall the one about an arrogant enemy of David, who wore long flowing hair as a display of arrogance, and how he has it get caught in a tree branch, to his doom in battle. That’s irony, and that’s a touch of humor. In a strange comedic story, there is Jesus telling Peter that if he needs a coin, he can find it in the next fish he opens. And indeed it happens so. In Matthew 17. it’s Peter’s tax-paying fish. Holy mackerel!
As we study the start of the Gospel, it says that the Spirit came to alight upon Jesus, like a dove, in the Jordan. There is a light connection to Noah’s dove there, and a new beginning, and new deliverance in Jesus. It also is a fascination to John the Baptist and other disciples who saw it happen live. Perhaps one said to the other: ‘well, we asked for a sign—we got a sign, for sure!’
That dove moment reminds me of how an underdog bishop was elected pope one time. The man who became pope is now known as St. Fabian, whose feast happens to be tomorrow. His story is that when they held the conclave, he was not among the leading choices for new pope, but a dove flew in the room and alighted on his head, and the cardinals took it as a holy sign and picked him for pontiff. And that is a funny story, too!
So, my homily point, God has a sense of humor. To which you could rebut, I know—He made you! Ouch! But I could retort: Yes, and He made you, too, adding to His sense of humor!
If that isn’t enough—I have added below two jokes that I omitted from the homily, for time’s sake.
Three Catholic clergy were at discernment weekend at a retreat house in Hawaii’s Big Island. Each became a bit restless and the trio borrowed a schooner to go out for the day, as one knew how to pilot it. They were out into the Pacific, when a storm suddenly came on and knocked the craft around at sea for an hour, that ended up pushing them far away and crashing them on a mysterious deserted island. The storm soon passed, and as they awoke after the exhaustion, it was all clear. Here they were stranded now, three priests, with no signs of any human existence on this forgotten small island, but for items left over there from World War II, some fishing gear, a water filtration kit, a stove with working supplies, even a Bible and a little chapel in a hut. The Jesuit, Dominican, and Trappist priest wondered: Are we marooned on this deserted island? The priests began sharing how they each had been praying at the retreat center, before, for a big change and upgrade to their vocation. The Jesuit said that, after 30 years serving in Oceania, he was hoping to teach, somehow, the rest of his days at a famous Jesuit University somewhere, though he had doubted that would happen, really. The Dominican said that his prayer was too ambitious, too, of wanting to move up and preach in one of the world’s largest churches, now, instead of at his Honolulu parish. They looked to the remaining clergyman, the Trappist, and asked: “What, then, by you? You also were on the discernment weekend with us. What did you long for?” The Trappist Monk priest said, “First, brothers, you both were not praying with confidence and full trust in God, so how would you expect to get your request from Him? I always pray with confidence, never doubting…I prayed that I would get off Hawaii and live in a much more secluded place, to aid my life of meditation. It seems that my prayer was answered!”
A fellow moves into Burtonsville, and for the New Year heads on its first Friday night to our brew pub up the street (Green Turtle) and promptly orders three beers. The bartender raises his eyebrows, but serves the man three beers, which the man drinks quietly at a table, alone. The following Friday, the man comes in and orders three beers again. It repeats the next few Fridays, several times. Soon the regular crowd there on Fridays is whispering about the Man Who Orders The Three Beers. Finally, in February sometime, the bartender broaches the subject on behalf of the others watching. “I don’t mean to pry, but folks around here are wondering why you always order three beers?” ‘Well, sure—“ the man replies, “You see, I am one of triplets, all in the military. We used to have a beer together every Friday. I miss them. I am just sent to Ft. Meade, but my other two brothers have been assigned off to very dangerous places. As a way of keeping the family bond, we said that we would always order an extra two beers whenever we drank, like on a night off, as a way of remembering the kinship.” The bartender and the whole regular gathering heard this answer, and soon the Man Who Orders Three Beers became saluted and celebrated. Then, one end-of-February night, the man comes in and orders only two beers. The bartender pours them with a heavy heart. The word flies around the pub—“only two beers.” Prayers are starting to get offered for the soul of one of the brothers. The next Friday, in March, the man orders just two beers again, so the bartender says to the man, while patting him on the shoulder, “Folks around here, me first of all, want to offer condolences to you for the passing of your brother. You know-only the two beers and all…” The drinking man ponders this for a moment, then replies, “You’ll be happy to hear that my two brothers are alive and well… It’s just that I, just for myself, as a new Catholic, I have decided to give up drinking beer for Lent. Now, my brothers aren’t Catholic, nor would they be observing Lent. So, I am still having their beers.”