Did Jesus Ever Laugh?

There is no passage in the New Testament that indicates that Jesus laughed.  This does not mean, of course, that He never laughed.  He was human and experienced an array of emotions from sorrow to anger.  But if He did occasionally indulge in laughter, it was not recorded.  Nonetheless, it is easy to imagine Him laughing when the children he entertained and blessed sat on His lap and tugged at His beard (Mark 10:16).

Jesus certainly approved laughter.  In His Sermon on the Mount He said to the crowd, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh” (Luke 6:21).  In his book, The Virtues, Romano Guardini regards laughter as a virtue.  He reasons that “A sense of humor means that we take man seriously and strive to help him, but suddenly see how odd he is, and laugh, even though it be only inwardly. A friendly laugh at the oddity of all human affairs — that is humor. It helps to be kind, for after a good laugh it is easier to be serious again.”  Christ must have noticed the amusing idiosyncrasies of the motley group He chose to be His apostles and enjoyed more than a few belly laughs.  Yet He dearly loved them, although He was fully aware of their imperfections.

He made several positive references to the Old Testament and, therefore, affirmed its contents, including the laughter of God.  The Psalmist states that “The wicked plot against the godly; they snarl at them in defiance. But the Lord just laughs, for he sees their day of judgment coming” (Psalm 37:12-13).  In Psalm 126 we read:Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, The Lord has done great things for them.”

When God told Abraham that despite his old age he would sire a child and his progeny would be as multiple as the stars, he evoked great laughter.  His wife, Sarah, said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me” (Genesis 21:6).  In Job 8:21 we read, He will yet fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy”.

     The utter naturalness of laughter is ingeniously described in an Australian aborigines myth.  Accordingly, a Giant Frog had consumed all the waters of the earth.  The only solution to his releasing this life-sustaining substance was to get the Frog to laugh.  One by one, various animals paraded by attempting to provoke a laugh.  Neither monkeys, nor kangaroos, nor hyenas, could cause the Frog to erupt into laughter.  At last, an eel entered the picture and stood delicately balanced on its tail.  The Giant Frog’s uproarious laughter flooded the world.  Life was allowed to resume. “Laughter has something in it common with the ancient words of faith and inspiration”, wrote G. K. Chesterton; “it unfreezes pride and unwinds secrecy; it makes people forget themselves in the presence of something greater than themselves”.

This curious carnivore has not escaped the funny bone of an urban sophisticate.  Humorist Ogden Nash has dedicated a short poem in its honor:  “I don’t mind eels/Except at meals—and the way they feels”.  Humor is remarkably free of ethnic boundaries.  Eels may not be good medicine, but laughter is.  We need instigators of the Giant Frog to keep us inundated with laughter.  For this curious convulsion is good for both body and soul, and for mind and heart. Scientists who have investigated the effects of laughter find a correlation between levity and longevity.  This should not be surprising.  He who laughs, lasts.  Life may not always be a lighting matter, but laughter means that there is something else that matters.  

Dostoevsky found the laughter of children to be “a ray of sunshine from paradise”.  Children learn to laugh before they learn to speak.  Laughter is innate and children have not yet shaken loose from their tenure in heaven.  Their laughter brings joy to those who have forgotten how to laugh.  The world would be in a sorry state if it were not for the laughter of children.  The sunshine they bring is an indication that there is something divine about their laughter.  Bishop Sheen referred to the “Divine sense of humor” which he saw in Christ when he referred to Peter, the man who betrayed Him thrice, as a “rock” on which to build his Church.  Yet, the venerable bishop did not see something in this life that he felt was in store for him in the next: “But there was one thing that he does not show… one thing he saved for those who have a divine sense of humor. It was one thing he saved for heaven that will make heaven, heaven. And that was… his smile.”     

Sheen was very much influenced by the wit and wisdom of G.K. Chesterton.  They shared a longing to find something of that divine sense of humor more fully expressed in Jesus.  At the close of his book, Orthodoxy, the distinguished convert to the Church of Rome had this to say:  “There was something that He hid from all men when he went up a mountain to pray.  There was something He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation.  There was 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.”

Photo by Anna Hecker on Unsplash

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Dr. Donald DeMarco is Professor Emeritus, St. Jerome’s University and Adjunct Professor at Holy Apostles College.  He is is the author of forty-two books and a former corresponding member of the Pontifical Academy of Life.  Some of his latest books, The 12 Supporting Pillars of the Culture of Life and Why They Are Crumbling, and Glimmers of Hope in a Darkening World, Restoring Philosophy and Returning to Common Sense and Let Us not Despair are posted on amazon.com.  He and his wife, Mary, have 5 children and 13 grandchildren.  

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