I was thinking the other day about what a really FUNNY book the Bible is. I’ve always thought that people take it MUCH too seriously! Because they stick to the flowery King James version, instead of more modern translations, they miss the wonderfully ironic sense of humor that Jesus and the New Testament writers had (The quotations below are from The Unvarnished New Testament by Andy Gaus, which is my favorite modern translation). This led me to decide to write about what I consider to be the 4 funniest stories in the Bible.

I’ll take them in order: The first is Matthew 8:8, where a big military man intercepts Jesus as he’s going from one place to another, after he has just done a lot of healings, and tells him that he has a sick child at home. Jesus says, "I’ll come cure him," but the general (if that’s what he was) says that won’t be necessary, because he’s used to giving orders to his men and they always carry them out. Therefore, all he wants Jesus to do is to order the boy to be healed and he’s sure it will happen.

Jesus is flabbergasted and says to the people surrounding him, "Believe me, I never found that kind of trust in anyone in Israel!" In other words, none of the people who were making such a big deal out of him would have considered for a moment that he could do such a thing. But it worked: "the child was cured at that hour."

The second one is Luke 24:13. In this section, some of the disciples meet the risen Jesus on the road to a village called Emmaus, but they don’t recognize him. They fall into conversation with a man they think of as a stranger and when they discover he hasn’t heard about Jesus being crucified, they’re amazed. Cleopas says to the stranger, "You must be the only inhabitant of Jerusalem who doesn’t know what has happened there in the last few days." When they all sat down and ate together, they finally recognized him.

The 3rd one is John 2:8-10, which is how I recognized that the little man I met in Kinkos was really an angel. This is when Jesus and his mother attend a wedding where the host runs out of wine. His mother, who obviously thinks her son can do anything, asks him to do something about it, and he says something along the lines of, ‘Don’t bother me, Mom,’ but he turns the jars full of water into wine anyway. When the headwaiter tastes it, he says to the bridegroom, "Everyone else in the world puts out the fine wine first, and then the cheaper stuff when they?re soused. But you’ve kept the fine wine till now."

The last one is another scene where Jesus isn’t recognized, and it’s also in John: John 20:15 (I guess this means that John qualifies as the funniest book in the Bible). I wrote about this scene in My Adventures With the Green Man, where Mary Magdalene goes to the cemetery and sees the risen Jesus, but doesn’t recognize him (she thought he was the gardener). She even bosses him around, as if he was standing there in a big floppy hat with a rake in one hand, demanding that he tell her what he’s done with the body.

Shirley MacLaine told me that the Dalai Lama (whom she knows personally) is a big giggler and I’ve heard this from other people as well. The 13th century mystic Meister Eckhart wrote a sermon he titled "God Laughs and Plays," about the delight that is involved in creation, and he also had a wonderful creation story: "God’s laughter created the son and their laughter together created the holy spirit and out of the laughter of the three poured the universe." What a switch from the dour, threatening sermons of most preachers today!

I recently attended a lecture by one of my favorite writers, Anne LaMott, who said something I thought was equally profound: "The opposite of faith is certainty" (not doubt, as so many of these super serious preachers keep telling us).

Then I went to a Laurie Anderson concert and heard a wonderful metaphor. She didn’t say where she got it, but it sounds Native American to me and it goes like this: Once, long ago, creatures didn’t think about tomorrow or yesterday, there was only "now," so the lark flew free in the moment. Then the lark’s father died, and she didn’t know where to bury him, so she buried him in her head, and that’s how memory began. Like the metaphors in the Bible, especially the funny ones, it says so much that can’t be expressed in the ordinary way.

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