Jesus has a pointed and prophetic sense of humor.
And, Jesus’ most stinging humor was reserved for the religious types, especially the Pharisees. Jesus called them a bag of snakes (Matt. 23:33) and said that their moms had slept with the Devil (John 8:44).
While those who suffered under the judgment of these religious types likely had more than a few good laughs when Jesus lampooned them. The Pharisees, of course, did not think it was funny, because apart from repentance sinners are no fun at all.
Despite the fact that the Pharisees were a devoutly religious group, like many cults and religions in our day, Jesus actually made fun of how they did religion. While it will likely shock our sensibilities, which have been refined by postmodern pluralism, Jesus made fun of how they prayed, saying, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others (Matt. 6:5).”
He also made fun of how they fasted: “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others (Matt. 6:16).” Jesus made fun of how they tithed, declaring, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others (Matt. 23:23).”
The Pharisees failed to see that they were a silly (and often so do their religious offspring and self-righteous folks in general). Rather than repenting, they fought to defend themselves against Jesus’ stinging comedic barbs. In one ironic encounter, they neglect the fact that he is God who has come into their midst, and rather than humbly learning from him, they take the opportunity to rebuke Jesus for not washing his hands before dinner, like Miss Manners requires (Luke 11:37-41). Sure they are going to hell, but at least it’s with clean hands.
The problem with religious types is that they take themselves way too seriously, and God way too lightly. And, we are all prone to this problem. By making fun of them (and us), Jesus was in fact serving them by showing them that God is not impressed by people who are “holier” than He is. This is why Jesus sometimes needs to offend us.
Lastly, in Matthew 15:10–14 we read:
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
To summarize, Jesus made fun of decent Republican, church-going, tax-paying heterosexual guys for praying wrong, sucking in their faces when they fasted as if they were supermodels, tithing out of their spice racks, and being blind tour guides to hell. Cue the rim shot…
This blog is adapted from the book Religion Saves by Mark Driscoll.