Did Jesus Ever Laugh?

In the gospels, Jesus shares in the fullness of the human experience. To paraphrase one theologian, he mourns and rejoices, he hungers and thirsts, He is born and dies. But, to the modern reader, there seems to be one thing we experience that Jesus doesn’t: laughter.

G.K. Chesterton touched upon this at the very end of Orthodoxy:

Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian. And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.

Mirth—that lightheaded spirit that gives rise to laughter—seems entirely absent in the gospels.

For some, this might not seem like an issue. Jesus was born to die. He came to rescue a fallen humanity and redeem the world. He came to proclaim the kingdom of God, to defeat Satan, to heal the broken in spirit and body. So perhaps it’s not surprising that we do not catch any glimpse of Jesus laughing in the gospels. It just would not be fitting.

Yet humor is a distinctive characteristic of what it means to be human. It is one of the most effective ways of winning over audiences, exposing falsehoods, and demonstrating truth in the face of power. Laughter is one of the telltale signs of a couple that is truly happy in love. And no one has fully learned another language and culture until they know how to laugh and tell jokes in it.

We look for signs of humor from Jesus for two reasons. First, it seems to necessarily follow from the fullness of His humanity, as one who shared all things with us except sin (Hebrews 4:15). Second, it follows from our personal desire to relate more fully to Jesus.

It is true the gospels record many instances of Jesus’ joy (as this author points out). But joy is not the same thing as mirth or laughter. It is more of an interior state. Parents watching their child graduate from school or get married, artists drinking in that sense of accomplishment at the completion of a painting or sculpture, and believers resting in the truth of God all experience joy—but those moments are not necessarily accompanied by laughter. They may be—or they may bring out tears of joy.

So Chesterton’s reading of the gospels stands. Given the character of Jesus’ redemptive mission it does seem fitting that He might, as Chesterton puts it, ‘conceal’ His mirth.

But Jesus’ lighthearted side does peek out to us from beneath the veil of the Old Testament, in particular, in the wisdom literature. Consider this prophetic account of Jesus, who speaks in the first person as the wisdom of God in Proverbs 8:

then was I beside him as artisan;
I was his delight day by day,
playing before him all the while,
Playing over the whole of his earth,
having my delight with human beings (vv. 30-31).

We are afforded a similar glimpse of this more lighthearted side of Jesus in Song of Songs, if we understand the groom to be Christ. Here is how the bride recounts the approach of the groom in Song of Songs 2:

The sound of my lover! here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
See! He is standing behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattices (vv.8-9).

Both passages indicate a more lighthearted, ‘playful’ attitude than what we would normally ever associate with Christ’s demeanor in the gospels. The account in Proverbs seems to belong to a primeval time. Perhaps it offers a glimpse behind the mists of time at what the relationship between God and Adam and Eve before the Fall. This state of original happiness is now our destiny thanks to the redeeming work of Christ.

The second passage, I believe, depicts the pure earnestness of perfect love. One way of interpreting Song of Songs is to see it as a parable of the love Christ has for His Church. One could also see it as a description of the love between the soul and Christ (as St. Bernard of Clairvaux does). Mary would have experienced this as Christ’s mother. And Peter may have after the resurrection.

But details on any lighter moments of happiness Jesus experienced and shared with others are largely absent from the gospels. Perhaps this is because the holiest things are the most hidden. God’s own interior mirth, His sheer delight in being is too wondrous a thing for the naked human eye to see. In looking at the gospels directly, the brilliance of God’s smile is obscured to us. But it nonetheless bursts out on the Scriptural periphery of the gospels—in an ancient collection of wise sayings and one of the most intense love poems of the ancient world.

Does Jesus ever laugh? Rest assured He must. But it’s something that’s veiled to us in this life. For now, may we delight in the traces of divine mirth left for us in the Old Testament.

Stephen Beale

By

Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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  • Dr. Philip Cheung

    Of course Jesus laughs! He will be laughing with His Church Triumphant for all Eternity, and “He will wipe every tear away from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4). I bet He tells excellent jokes too. What do you guys think? Please share. Our Lady blesses you all with a smile!

  • ciao

    We can make Our Lord laugh every time we say we have made plans for our future.

  • Andrew

    Maybe he didn’t laugh because he didn’t care for everyone else’s sense of humor!

  • Maura Roan McKeegan

    Such a great topic! Thanks, Stephen! I once heard a wonderful, holy priest give a homily about the encounter on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24.

    “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?” Jesus asks. The disciples can’t believe he hasn’t heard of the things that have happened in the preceding days. “What things?” Jesus asks.

    With a smile, this dear priest giving his homily asked the congregation: “Do you realize how playful Jesus is being here?” Suddenly, I could see the mirth in Jesus’ eyes in this scene, and I’ve never forgotten it.

  • Mainer

    Your ways are not my ways says the Lord. There is probably no laughter in Heaven either because the supernatural intensity of happiness and love for God and union with the Beatific Vision make laughter unnecessary—unlike human life on earth with its many imperfections which are taken as “part of life”.

  • Carole Horan

    In my high school religion class in the early 1960’s Sister Marie Rose pointed out some gospel stories where Jesus’ humor was displayed for us. The best one was when in Luke 19, Zacchaeus, a very wealthy and influential man, had to climb a tree to see Jesus in the crowd because he was so short in stature. When Jesus gives him recognition, He tells him to hurry down and he prepared to have him as a guest! Even though Zachaeus was seen as a wealthy publican and sinner, he was stumbling all over himself to view and then host this amazing Stranger who was demanding food and lodging, if you will. It’s fairly likely everyone in that crowd, including Jesus, was laughing.
    Another possible reading of Jesus’ humor was some of the names he gave his Apostles. The name Petra or rock has a deep theological and Sculptural bases to it, but there is God’s humor in it too. Simon bar Jonah was no where near “rock solid” when Jesus first renamed him. Later, with the grace of the Holy Spirit, yes he was the very Rock and foundation Jesus called him to be. Also,calling the competitive and argumentative brothers James and John “sons of thunder”. I could see everyone in the group,including Jesus, getting a good laugh out of that one. The Apostles could have been thinking ,It’s about time someone pointed that out.

  • Suzie Andres

    Thank you for this really thoughtful and helpful article!
    I like that word “restraint” applied to Our Lord – He certainly restrains His infinite love, or He couldn’t let most of us live so long (He’d take us to Himself in Heaven more quickly!) – but helpful too to think of Him restraining His mirth. We certainly give Him a lot to laugh about!

    I have found Jesus laughing after His Ascension. . . when He comes to visit His saints!
    There is a wonderful book about Padre Pio and the angels, “Send me your Guardian Angel,” in which a witness tells us about little Jesus laughing with Padre Pio. They would joke and tease each other. This also occurred in the life of St. Therese’s little Vietnamese brother, the Servant of God Marcel Van. He and little Jesus (and Therese) often tease each other and laugh…And Jesus suggests to Marcel that he laugh more in order not to worry.

    All of which makes perfect sense in light of your quote from Proverbs 8. His delight is, delightfully for us, to be with the children of men. Thank you again for writing about this happy topic!

  • Mary

    Children flocked to him. Did you ever see children flock to a grump with no smile on his face?

  • Eskimo man

    Can I comment here?

  • LizEst

    I have a whole book on the humor of Jesus which was written by a priest around the turn of the century (20th century). Assuredly, He has a great sense of humor.

  • What is the title? 🙂

  • Linda

    LOL!

  • LizEst

    Hi Maria! It is “The Humor of Jesus” by Father Henri Cormier.

  • Linda

    I really like your comment, Monsignor! Ever since I was young, I’ve always pictured Jesus giving a sweet smile and chuckle when He was washing Peter’s feet and Peter impetuously pleaded, “Then wash my hands and my head as well!” I’ve always thought how Peter’s holy impetuousness must have delighted Our Lord so much!

    And how could He not have laughed as a baby? Don’t all mommies love to caress and tickle their babies during play?

    Oh, yes, I can picture Jesus laughing in joy and delight!

  • independent_forever

    Not to mention that the Bible doesn’t give us details about his entire life per se. There’s the entire time between the “finding in the Temple” and when his ministry began years later so who is to say if he laughed or enjoyed playful joking like all of us do. I would say he did–it just wasn’t part of the Holy Spirit’s inspired writings that went into the Bible.

  • Thanks! 🙂

  • LizEst

    Quite welcome!

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