By Father Thom Hennen
Question Box Column
Q. Have you ever pictured Jesus smiling or even laughing?
A. Yes, many times! There is one instance in the Gospels in particular that stands out to me. Several years ago I was on retreat and was praying with the passage about the call of Simon (Luke 5:1-
11). Recall that Simon (Peter) had come in from a long night of fishing with nothing to show for it and was in the process of stowing his gear — probably thinking about breakfast and then bed. That is when the passage says Jesus got into Simon’s boat and asked him to “put out a short distance from the shore.” If I were Simon, I would have been very annoyed at this but have you ever wondered what the look on Jesus’ face might have been? In my prayer, I imagined him with a grin of mischief — not the sinful kind of mischief, mind you, but the playful kind.
Jesus then preaches to the crowds from the boat. By the way, this would have created a natural “sound system.” If you have ever been on a still lake and noticed some fishermen out in a boat not too far from shore, you can practically hear their whole conversation because of the way the sound waves bounce off the water, but back to the story!
After the sermon, Simon probably was thinking, “Finally, we can go in!” But then Jesus says, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Again, I imagined Simon doing the first-century equivalent of an eye roll and Jesus with that little smirk on his face again, as though thinking to himself, “They have no idea what’s about to happen.” Simon then says, “Dude, we’ve been at it all night and haven’t caught a thing, but whatever!” (my own very loose modern translation). When the nets quickly started filling up with fish and the boat started to tip, I imagined Simon and the others falling and fumbling (nothing like some good old physical comedy) to secure the nets and keep from ending up in the drink. I imagined Jesus in the bow of the boat, not only smiling, but full-on belly laughing.
A more serious moment follows back on the beach when Simon, realizing what has taken place, falls to his knees and says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus invites him instead to do another kind of fishing.
I don’t think a lot of Christians (and maybe even fewer Catholics) often think of Jesus smiling, much less laughing or telling a joke, and he is rarely depicted as such. But I think Jesus has a great sense of humor (as well as possessing the full range of human emotion by his incarnation) and he must have had an attractive, joyful presence. If not, how could he have drawn so many to follow him? In the same way today, if we are always so serious, how will others be drawn to the faith? Pope Francis has often commented on this, urging us not to be “sourpusses” (in an official papal document no less). Mirth with no message can also be deadly to the faith — what I call “cotton candy Catholicism” — but just as deadly can be a dour demeanor that hardly says, “Come, join us!”
I think there are actually many other hidden moments of humor in the Bible, if you look carefully. As Christians, we should absolutely take serious things seriously but we should also take light things lightly. It is a very healthy thing to be able to laugh at ourselves.
(Father Thom Hennen serves as the pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport and Vicar General for the Diocese of Davenport. Send questions to email@example.com)