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A spiritual comment and prayer to begin the day with Ed Kessler, from the Woolf Institute in Cambridge.

2 minutes

Last on

Thu 26 Jan 2017 05:43

Teaching with Humour

Good morning! The book of Ecclesiastes states there is “a time to weep and a time to laugh” (3:4) Of course, the Bible does not consist of books of jokes but their lack of textual indicators to inform the reader of a joke, as well as no punctuation means that humour is often missed. I recently wrote a book on Jesus and was not surprised to notice that Jesus used humour in his teaching. Jewish comics were famous from ancient times to the modern day – from the matriarch Sarah who laughed when told she would have a son (and named Isaac for that laughter) to Woody Allen who said that “if you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans”. Ordinary life in the first century CE was difficult and the timing was right for comic relief. Comedy, especially Jewish comedy, is often about coping in difficult conditions and laughter keeps everyone going. Some psychologists have deconstructed Jewish humour in terms of managing external hostility through self-mockery, as Freud wrote, “I do not know whether there are many other instances of a people making fun to such a degree of its own character.” A Yiddish proverb illustrates what he meant: “want to alleviate your big-time worries? Put on a tighter shoe”. Humour was a means to reach a wide audience, breaking down barriers between ordinary people and making them more receptive to the message. Moral instruction was intrinsic to his humour and in a warning about judging others, Jesus said, “How dare you say to your brother, ‘Please, let me take that speck out of your eye,’ when you have a log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4). Rather than expounding the meaning of hypocrisy, his listeners would just have laughed at, and reflected on, an absurd scene.  Blessed are you, o Lord, who teaches us to laugh with one another and…at ourselves Amen