Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Suddenly the little boy began to laugh"

I bought several of Elton Trueblood's books while in college and particularly enjoyed this one: The Humor of Christ (1964). From the author's Preface:
The germ of the idea which has finally led to the writing of this book was planted many years ago when our eldest son was four years old. We were reading to him from the seventh chapter of Matthew's Gospel, feeling very serious, when suddenly the little boy began to laugh. He laughed because he saw how preposterous it would be for a man to be so deeply concerned about a speck in another person's eye, that he was unconscious of the fact his own eye had a beam in it. Because the child understood perfectly that the human eye is not large enough to have a beam in it the very idea struck him as ludicrous. His gay laughter was a rebuke to his parents for their failure to respond to humor in an unexpected place. The rebuke served its purpose by causing me to begin to watch for humor in all aspects of the life and teachings of Christ. Sometimes this did not appear until the text had been read and reread many times. ....

We do not know with certainty how much humor there is in Christ's teaching, but we can be sure that there is far more than is normally recognized. In any case there are numerous passages in the recorded teaching which are practically incomprehensible when regarded as sober prose, but which are luminous once we become liberated from the gratuitous assumption that Christ never joked. In some cases the recognition of humor is a genuine solvent. We have heard much, and possibly too much, in our generation, of demythologizing the Gospels; perhaps there is a parallel process which is more fruitful, though we have no catchword for it. This is the process of freeing the Gospel from the excessive sobriety which is provided both by the authors and by us. Once we realize that Christ was not always engaged in pious talk, we have made an enormous step on the road to understanding. ....