Today's Little Lift
by Jim Bullington
“An idiot will become intelligent, When the foal of a wild donkey is born a man.” (Job 11.12; NASV). “For an empty-headed man will be wise, When a wild donkey’s colt is born a man.” (Job 11.12 NKJV). Do you see any humor in this verse as translated by two popular translations? If not, go back and read it again. It is similar to statements like, “When pigs fly,” or “When cows have wings,” or “When the sun rises in the west.”
Actually these are all adynata, figures of speech in the form of hyperboles taken to such extremes as to make the thing impossible. The point of this devotional is to demonstrate that God has a sense of humor and to some extent, He expects us to be able to laugh even about serious subjects. Jesus frequently used humor in His teachings (as we will presently illustrate) and with good reason. When someone laughs with us, there is a connection that ten thousand words might not be able to make. Barriers are broken by laughter that might never be breached by starchy logic or any other weapons in our theological arsenal.
Think carefully about some of the adynata that Jesus used; think about them as if you had never heard them in the serious context in which they appear – then rear back and laugh; they are funny!
“And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7.3-5).
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23.23-24).
“For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.” (Matthew 23.25-26).
A Canaanite woman approached Jesus, desiring that He would heal her afflicted daughter. After His disciples had rebuffed her, she worshiped Him saying, “'Lord, help me!'” But He answered and said, 'It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.' And she said, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.' Then Jesus answered and said to her, 'O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” (Matthew 15.25-28). This text is a most remarkable one because not only did Jesus use humor, He used ethnic humor. The woman humbly went along with the joke, responded in kind, and received the blessing she sought!
Alice Roosevelt, Theodore's oldest daughter, once said of Calvin Coolidge that he was so sour looking that he must have “been weaned on a pickle!” All too often that is how the world sees believers - afraid to laugh even at our own mistakes! I was blessed to know Christian men and women who were secure enough in themselves and in Jesus to laugh! A legitimate prayer would be for God to restore a healthy sense of humor in His people. Jesus wept, but He also laughed. When pigs fly? No! Now!
1. What is a hyperbole? What is the hyperbole in a man with a plank in his eye? How about swallowing a camel?
2. Although Jesus used humor in connection with sin, He did not see sin as a laughing matter. How did He draw this line of distinction?
3. When Jesus used the common comparison of Canaanites to dogs, did He endorse that perception?
4. Do you think Jesus appreciated the woman's sense of humor in going along with the comparison? Why or why not?
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