Jesus with a Sense of Humor

You either hear him as a smart alec or as a guy with a sense of humor. As Jesus and his mother interact, he’s either being sharp and dismissive or he’s being playful. Here’s John 2:4–5:

καὶ ὑστερήσαντος οἴνου λέγει ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ Ἰησοῦ πρὸς αὐτόν· οἶνον οὐκ ἔχουσιν. 4 λέγει αὐτῇ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· τί ἐμοὶ καὶ σοί, γύναι; οὔπω ἥκει ἡ ὥρα μου. 5 λέγει ἡ μήτηρ αὐτοῦ τοῖς διακόνοις· ὅ τι ἂν λέγῃ ὑμῖν, ποιήσατε.

When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.” Jesus said to her, “That’s not my problem, lady. My time hasn’t come.” His mother said to the servants, “Whatever he says to you do it.”

Is there anything in the text itself that should shape how we hear Jesus’ words? I think so. Look at how his mother responds. She isn’t offended. She responds as though Jesus words mean he will do what she asked.

I imagine she rolls her eyes with a smirk as she turns to the servants. She gives Jesus a “Boy, don’t give me that” look in response to his jest. If Jesus were genuinely irritated and he was saying the matter wasn’t his responsibility, why would she have responded by telling the servants to be ready for his instructions?

When his mother came to him, I imagine Jesus himself listend with a smirk, and that smirk turned to a full-faced smile and maybe a chuckle as he said, “That’s not my problem, lady.”

Isn’t that change of tone significant? If you struggle to see and hear Jesus this way, but then you see it enough times, might that not affect how readily you run to him when you need help? When confronted with your brokenness and you need somewhere to run, are you more likely to go to a person that is kind and knows how to laugh or to the sharp-tongued, stoic wise man?

The Gospel on the Cross

Luke 23:40–43

Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἕτερος ἐπιτιμῶν αὐτῷ ἔφη· οὐδὲ φοβῇ σὺ τὸν θεὸν ὅτι ἐν τῷ αὐτῷ κρίματι εἶ; 41 καὶ ἡμεῖς μὲν δικαίως, ἄξια γὰρ ὧν ἐπράξαμεν ἀπολαμβάνομεν· οὗτος δὲ οὐδὲν ἄτοπον ἔπραξεν. 42 καὶ ἔλεγεν· Ἰησοῦ, μνήσθητί μου ὅταν ἔλθῃς ἐν τῇ βασιλείᾳ σου. 43 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἀμήν σοι λέγω· σήμερον μετ᾿ ἐμοῦ ἔσῃ ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ.

The other answered and rebuked him and said, “Do you not fear God because you are under the same judgment?! And we rightly so because we are getting what we deserve for the things we did. But this man did nothing out of line!” And he said, “Jesus, Remember me when you enter into your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “I’m telling you — today you will be with me in paradise.”

This passage is marvelous because “the other” criminal just rebukes someone and asks Jesus for help. There isn’t an explicit confession. There is one under the surface, however, and that’s what I want to try to draw out here.

In his rebuke and request, he seems to believe five things:

  1. He believes God is to be feared.
  2. He believes mocking Jesus is an offense to God.
  3. He believes Jesus is suffering and dying for something he didn’t do.
  4. He believes Jesus is king.
  5. He believes Jesus can and will help him.

The confession is a response to the gospel on display. Verse thirty-eight says there was a sign on the cross inscribed with the words “This man is the king of the Jews.” This is why Pilate and Herod mock him, and this is what every one standing around him is jeering about. “Jesus is king of the Jews.” That’s the proclamation that has some mocking and at least one asking for help.

Part of me wants to say, “Look how little he actually knew about Jesus and yet was accepted.” But in reality, the confession evidences an amazingly high christology. The criminal actually believed it was possible for Jesus to suffer and die a disgraceful death while at the same time being a king, who — most amazing of all — would one day after death actually take possession of his kingdom and be able to help him.

In the end, the criminal views the world through a lense heavily tinted with apocalypticism, and he believes a gospel that can be summarized “Repent! The kingdom of heaven has drawn near in the man hanging beside me, and he can help if you ask him.”

When Jesus Told You So

The moment when Peter denies him (Luke 22:61) — What does Jesus’ face look like then? Luke invites you to imagine it.

The Lord turned and looked directly at Peter, and Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how the Lord had told him that before the rooster crows today you will deny me three times.

What does Jesus think and feel when we fail despite our best intentions? Your answer to this question is the heart of the issue.

How you imagine Jesus’ face is so relevant to this scene for a couple reasons. First, the text explicitly says, “the Lord turned and looked directly (ἐνέβλεψεν) at Peter.” I think we all catch at least some glimpse of Jesus’ eyes or mouth as we stand in Peter’s shoes and feel the warmth of the fire.

Second, as we look at his face in this moment, we do so as someone who just failed. We did exactly what we said we wouldn’t. He was right, and we were wrong. We denied him explicitly and repeatedly.

We are likely to see a smirk communicating disappointment. The smirk says, “I told you. Just like I said. Pathetic.” But is that the Jesus we see in other parts of the Gospels? If you have read my posts over the past couple months, you know that isn’t what I see elsewhere. If you hear “Pathetic” as you look at the Lord’s face, you must dare to reimagine it. Just try to see something else.

Of all the times it is fitting and good to imagine a smirk on Jesus’ face, this is certainly not one of those moments. Jesus was harsh with those on the outside, but not with those who beat their chest and shed tears over their brokenness.

Remember the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:10–14)? The tax collector wept over his brokenness, and Jesus says this man, not the other, went to his home justified. How would Jesus look at the tax collector? That’s how Jesus would have looked at Peter, except with more compassion and pain. This was Jesus’ best friend.

The very next words tell us how Peter responded: “He went out and wept bitterly.” I imagine it was difficult for Peter to have done what he did and not be able to talk to Jesus as he tossed and turned that night. I imagine Jesus wanted desperately to run to Peter. But it wasn’t the right time.

It is easier on some days than others, but I imagine in this scene Jesus’ face is sorrowful. It’s not so because of what Peter did to him. Jesus is thick skinned, and he saw this coming a mile away. What breaks Jesus’ heart is that Peter is slammed face-to-face with his own brokenness like never before. It’s too much to handle. Will it break Peter like Judas? If Jesus could cry over “Jerusalem,” an abstract, collective group, because they refused to acknowledge him, then surely tears welled up here as Peter does the same.

No smirk this time — tears, a frown, a half step toward you before being jerked back by the chains. Seeing it this way makes all the difference.

Arguing for Sinners

I like it when either story comes up in class. Whether it is Jonah or the Prodigal Son, we end in the same place talking about how both stories make the same points. God delights to forgive repentant sinners, so we should be the type of people who share that delight and not those who begrudge his grace.

They usually get at least part of that message with the Prodigal Son, but hardly anyone thinks of this as the message of Jonah. It’s satisfying to see how multiple plot lines all tie together and stories intertwine, and it’s a special joy to share those things with students.

Luke 15

This morning, I saw for what seemed like the first time a couple other stories that mesh with the Prodigal Son. Luke 15 sets the scene with Jesus surrounded by, essentially, two types of people: on one side there are tax collectors and sinners; on the other, there’s Pharisees and scribes (Luke 15:1–2).

One comment — “This man hangs out with sinners and eats with them!” — leads to three stories. It struck me this morning that each story makes the same point and each story builds to the climactic confrontation between the father and the older brother, the “additional scene” in the Prodigal Son.

  1. A shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine to pursue the one lost sheep (15:3–7)
  2. A lady who sweeps the house to find the lost coin (15:8–10)
  3. The father who rejoices when he gets back his lost son plus one more scene (15:11–32)

Many can relate to losing a piece of livestock and finding it again. Many more can connect emotionally to losing and finding money. At the end of both of these stories Jesus looks up and makes the point explicitly: The same sort of joy is found in heaven when sinners repent (15:7, 10). The argument builds until finally the third story about losing and regaining a child.

The Prodigal Son is by far the longest and most poignant of the three stories. It makes the same point as the first two, but then it lands the right hook. This time, after the lost son is found, Jesus doesn’t stop and say, “The same sort of joy is found in heaven …” The story keeps going. The heavenly rejoicing is actually portrayed in an unexpected scene.

The Additional Scene

“It isn’t fair! You can’t treat him that way because he is a sinner!” Now, we are back to where we started in the second verse of the chapter, where they said the same thing about Jesus. And just like at end of Jonah, where God argues with the angry prophet on behalf of sinners, here the father argues with his angry son about the same thing.

The party and the dancing and the rejoicing take the reader to heaven — or maybe just outside it. The reader stands outside the party and watches through the eyes of the older brother. When the Father comes out, he looks into the eyes of the reader, and he himself says directly to us, “We had to” (NIV). The party is not extravagant. The feasting is not excess. It isn’t a waste. It is necessary. He doesn’t berate the older son, but he argues on behalf of the rebelious one. He affirms his love for the embittered son, while at the same time arguing the party is a must. It’s just how that world works. That’s how it works in heaven, and as long as you are in Jesus’ presence, that’s how it works on earth, too.

εὐφρανθῆναι δὲ καὶ χαρῆναι ἔδει, ὅτι ὁ ἀδελφός σου οὗτος νεκρὸς ἦν καὶ ἔζησεν, καὶ ἀπολωλὼς καὶ εὑρέθη — Luke 15:32

It was necessary to be glad and throw a party beceause your brother was dead and came back to life. He was lost and found.

Teaching from Experience (Luke 11:1–14)

Two thoughts from Luke 11: (1) It is striking to me how, in this Gospel, Jesus’ teaching on prayer immediately follows a scene where he himself is praying. (2) If you visualize when you read, verse 14 is quite the jolt. Is there a discernable flow to these passages, or is verse 14 supposed to hit like a class 3 white water rapid? Maybe both.

Prayer

Chapter 11 opens with a couple dependent clauses that set the scene.

Luke 11:1
Καὶ ἐγένετοAnd so …
ἐν τῷ εἶναι αὐτὸν ἐν τόπῳ τινὶ προσευχόμενονwhen he was in a certain place praying …
ὡς ἐπαύσατοand as he finished …

Now the scene is set for the delivery of three familiar blocks of teaching, one unique to Luke but two of which are located in Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount.

  1. “Lord’s Prayer” (Luke 11:2–4 // Mathew 6:9–13)
  2. Ecouragement to persist in prayer via the example of a knock on the door at midnight (Luke 11:5–8)
  3. “Knock and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9–13 // Matthew 7:7–11)

In Luke, it seems that these teaching overflow from Jesus’ own personal experience of prayer (Luke 11:1). When I reread Luke 11:1 knowing what follows, I imagine Jesus was praying in 11:1 with the attitude and demeanor he describes in 11:2–13.

Straight Tarantino

Then your hit verse 14, and we are in the middle of an exorcism. No words are spent setting a new scene. There is, however, a paragraph break in NA and THGNT. While that paragraph break doesn’t set a new scene, you might compare how it affects the reading experience to a cinematic fade to black. But the opening of the next scene throws the reader into the middle of action that stretches our imagination.

Luke 11:4
Καὶ ἦν ἐκβάλλων δαιμόνιον κωφόν.And he was casting out a demon that made its host unable to speak.

Verse 13 is one of the most comforting and calming verses where Jesus is arguing that the Father is ready and willing to give good things to his children. The argument even draws on our own experience with our children, and then … Verse 14: MIDDLE OF AN EXORCISM

Pulling it Together

Is there some way to reconcile verse 14 with the flow of the previous 13 verses? Perhaps all fourteen verses are intended to read as an overflow from Jesus’ expereince of prayer in 11:1. Maybe 1–13 explain how we should pray in light of how he prays, and verse 14 illustrates the power made available in prayer. I mean, the last words of 13 are “Your heavenly father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him,” and the next verse is the overthrow of an evil spirit.

No big conclusion to draw here, but today’s reading experience was interesting and memorable in these two ways.

Upside Down Halloween

We have pretty clear images for Thursday, Friday, and Sunday. On Maundy Thursday, you have the last supper or, more prominent to me, images of the garden drama. On Good Friday, we are at the cross. On Sunday, the empty tomb. What about Holy Saturday? The first images that come to mind are iconography. I like these images.

Holy Saturday reminds me how limited my perspective is. My experiences and my ability to understand cannot grasp the height and depth and breath of the good news we celebrate this week. My imagination is too weak.

“The Harrowing of Hell” is a dynamite term. Today is a sort of upside down Halloween; tomorrow, we believe the fabric of reality began to be turned inside out.

Matt Emerson has an interesting article here, but note Shawn Wilhite’s comments here, too.

Isbell and Jesus on Good Friday

I was thinking about what it is I’m trying to do with these recent Jesus posts, and I was reminded of one of my favorite songs. The posts try to do something similar to what Jason Isbell does in “Relatively Easy” (Apple Music).

Even though it’s dark at first, listen:

I lost a good friend
Christmas time when folks go off the deep end
His woman took the kids and he took Klonopin
Enough to kill a man of twice his size
Not for me to understand
Remember him when he was still a proud man
A vandal’s smile, a baseball in his right hand
Nothing but the blue sky in his eye

His tragic recollection turns into a beautiful portrait of a friend’s face. The dark image of the first several lines fades into something like a nostalgic 1987 Tops baseball card. You see his friend’s face, that “vandal’s smile.” His face shines, and you feel like you know him.

I’m toying with that image of the baseball card. The friend steps out of the portrait like the people in Harry Potter pictures. Now, Jesus steps in. He looks through the card and flashes a similar vandal’s smile. His face shines, and there’s nothing but blue sky in his eye. You feel like you know him. The smile is kind, but it’s twisted and smirky and fittingly called a “vandal’s.” He’s not predictable.

He’s about to tear it all down.

“For those overwhelmed with dispear.”

Something like that. That’s what the back of the card would say.

Peter and Jesus on Good Friday

It was the first time they met. Jesus just steps into Peter’s boat and says, “Take the boat out so I can teach these people.” And he did it (Luke 5:3). Why did Peter comply?

Remember that Peter is the same one who, at the end of the Gospels, tried to take someone’s head off with a sword. If in the garden on Maundy Thursday night Peter was willing to take someone’s head off even after spending three years with Jesus, what must he have been like at this point when they first met?

Peter and his crew had been fishing all night and hadn’t caughty anything. That can’t have left him in the best of moods, and surely he was tired. In what way did he listen as Jesus taught the crowds?

Maybe he kept fiddling with his fishing gear and had Jesus on his mental back burner. Maybe he stopped and wiped the sweat from his forehead, shook his head, and entertained him with a “Huh! Look at this guy!” I picture this is a few different ways, but in all of them Peter is going along somewhat reluctantly, just entertaining the teacher man. Maybe he’s too tired to fuss and resist the request.

Even though Jesus is teaching the crowds, it’s no mere coincidence that he is standing in Peter’s boat. He has Peter on the mental back burner as well. When Jesus finishes teaching, he turns to Peter and tells him to put his boat out farther and let down their nets. “You mean the ones we just cleaned?!” Peter didn’t say it, but surely he thought it. The text actually says that when Jesus first saw them that morning they were doing exactly that, washing their nets (5:2). What Peter does says is “Sir, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at your request I’ll let down the nets.”

Was “at your request” accompanied with an eye roll? Was he frustrated to prolong his work day yet again? This isn’t “Saint Peter”; it’s a first century man who earned a living fishing. I mean, he prefaced his agreement by making known that he and his buddies had already let down their nets all over the palce. They did it all night! Whether at this point Jesus’ teaching had kindled in Peter a glimmer of respect and hope or whether Peter agreed with an eye roll and a sigh, I imagine Jesus’ response was the same. He smiled, maybe smirked.

If your Jesus doesn’t smile and smirk, well, I am writing this for you. Try to imagine with me. And if you think that an eye roll directed at him or a sigh of frustration can turn away Jesus’ smiling face, then please try to imagine with me. The kindest, most irenic person you have ever known is only a reflection of him.

Two boats so full of fish that they started to sink a little. Peter falls to his knees in amazement. Now, what was the nature of the amazement? Maybe Jesus’ gift of such a massive catch said to Peter, “Someone transcendent is here. You are unworthy.” Or maybe it was more like, “This catch is worth so much money. We did it! The night wasn’t wasted. Thank God I’ll make ends meet this month! Oh, my God …”

On their very first meeting, Peter was shown kindness by Jesus — so much so that he fell down and worshipped.

Today, on Good Friday, Peter is in a bad place. You think he thought about this first encounter? You think he can still see that smiling, smirking face. You think he can still hear Jesus laugh as they struggled to get all those silly fish to shore? I doubt it. Not today.

But he will. John 21 is coming. Soon, Peter will sit on the beach by a fire and see Jesus smile at him again. In just a few days, he will hear that kind voice call to him, he’ll jump out of another boat and splash his way to shore like those silly fish. Can’t you hear them laugh as Peter walks out of the water dripping wet and sees Jesus smile again?

Morning versus Night

Fernando Ortega’s The Crucifixion of Jesus is a beautiful mix of melodies and scripture reading, all reflecting on the passion narratives. As I listened this morning, the part where Peter confesses his loyalty stood out to me.

Mark 14:29–31
ὁ δὲ Πέτρος ἔφη αὐτῷ· εἰ καὶ πάντες σκανδαλισθήσονται ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ ἐγώ.Καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ ὁ Ἰησοῦς· ἀμὴν λέγω σοι ὅτι σὺ σήμερον ταύτῃ τῇ νυκτὶ πρὶν ἢ δὶς ἀλέκτορα φωνῆσαι τρίς με ἀπαρνήσῃ. 31 ὁ δὲ ἐκπερισσῶς ἐλάλει· ἐὰν δέῃ με συναποθανεῖν σοι, οὐ μή σε ἀπαρνήσομαι. ὡσαύτως δὲ καὶ πάντες ἔλεγον.Peter said to him, “Even if everyone falls away, I won’t!” Jesus said to him, “I’m telling you that today, on this night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times. But he was emphatically saying, “Even if I have to suffer with you, I will never deny you!” Now, all of them were saying the same thing.

We might ask, “How could Peter be so adamant and then by that very night do the opposite?” But doesn’t our experience make sense of this? How many times in the morning or midday have you thought “Not today,” only to lose the battle at night. Granted, the shift here isn’t really from morning to night but from evening to late night. Nevertheless, I think the point still stands.

It is striking to me how our mentality shifts as the hours pass, and it is striking to see something similar in the passion narratives, too.