I laughed out loud reading my Bible recently. Matthew 7:3-5 is Jesus’s best joke. Jesus is something of a comedian at this moment. Every comedian has a manifesto for the type of comedy they perform. The likes of Stephen Colbert often have something to say about politics through comedy. Jerry Seinfeld makes a big deal out of small experiences from everyday life. His bit about socks escaping the dryer is a favourite. As for Jesus, he frequently had something to say about hypocrites.
While preaching the greatest sermon of all time, Jesus offers a profound quip about our obsession with judging others’ imperfections. Here’s the line that makes me chortle:
I imagine Jesus physically holding a log against his face while working the crowd into a sea of belly laughs. In my mind, this joke has physical comedy written all over it. It’s the kind of comedy you could expect from comedians like Steve Martin during his stand-up era in the 80s. It’s playful, whacky, and fun!
In case you didn’t catch Jesus’s drift, the hypocrite in question is you. It’s not some other fool we all want to point the finger at. If you laugh, you have to laugh at yourself first. But don’t fret. A healthy laugh at yourself can soften the heart and provide Jesus with an opportunity to dislodge the four-by-two clogging your vision.
I performed my first ten minutes of stand-up comedy when I was nineteen. I do not remember any of my material. I doubt it was worth remembering. What I do remember is the feeling of regret as I stepped off the stage. People laughed at my jokes but it wasn’t kind laughter. Parts of my material made fun of other people’s character flaws. It was unfair, unkind, and unearned. I resorted to cheap comedy. I hated those laughs and never tried getting laughs like that again.
Steve Martin in an interview asks other comedians to consider ‘kind comedy’. Kind comedy, according to Steve, is when you look inwardly at your own flaws and what’s funny about yourself. Dragging the names of others into the public square to be ridiculed by the mob is easy, which is why most comedians do it! But there is a richer comedy to be found by searching inwardly. With an awareness of our own flaws, we are slower to judge others lest we be judged according to the same standard.
To Jesus, our flaws are no laughing matter. Sin is not comedic fodder; although some might treat it that way. Sin exists in all of us and needs to be confessed. It’s in the confession of our shortcomings to Jesus that he begins his redemptive work in our lives.
Before judging others, look inwardly. Confess what you see to the one who can set you free. Then maybe you can laugh about it later.
Nathan Wilson, College Pastor