The punch line

I think we’d find a lot more humor in the Bible if only we’d allow ourselves a little imagination…

Jesus is in Capernaum, the village in Galilee which has become the base for his ministry there. He’s in someone’s home. An eager crowd has gathered to hear him teach, stuffing themselves into every possible corner of the room. The house can’t hold the number who have come. They’re spilling out the doorway, blocking the entrance.

Four men have heard the rumor that Jesus is in town, and have brought their friend for healing. Their friend is paralyzed and can’t walk, so each has taken a corner of his mat to carry him. But they’ve arrived late. Jesus has already begun speaking and there’s no way to get in.

And then one of them has a light-bulb moment: “Hey — we could dig a hole in the roof and lower Bob down to Jesus through that.”

Even the most hare-brained of schemes sounds like sheer brilliance to four guys on a mission. One can only guess what Bob thought about all this.

Or the homeowner, for that matter.

Jesus is holding forth as the people hang on his every word. Then a noise interrupts from on high.



Choonk, choonk, choonk.

Jesus stops, cocks his head, and looks up. Everyone looks up with him.

Crumbs, then clods begin to fall from the ceiling. The sound of digging gets more insistent. People crowd back from the shower of debris. A shaft of light breaks through, and the hole gets steadily larger. Then, voices: “Hey, careful!” “I’ve got it, I’ve got it.” “Slowly, man, slowly!” “Are you guys sure you know what you’re doing?” “Shut up, Bob. We’re helping you.”

Inch by awkward inch, a bewildered Bob is lowered into the midst of the room until he finds himself face to face with Jesus. For a moment, everyone is silent, waiting to see what the Master will do.

He does the only thing he can do.

He laughs.

A long, joyous belly laugh. An infectious “well-that’s-a-new-one-on-me-but-I-absolutely-love-it” laugh. And the people laugh with him.

With eyes filled with merriment and a voice filled with warmth, Jesus turns to Bob and says, “My son, your sins are forgiven.”

And just like that, the mood in the room shifts. Some scribes, teachers of the Jewish law, have been looking on. Blasphemy! they fume quietly to themselves. Forgiving sins? That’s no joke. Who does this guy think he is?

They haven’t said a word out loud. But Jesus is immediately struck in his spirit. Their faithlessness stands in stark contrast to the guileless faith of the men on the roof. He confronts the killjoys directly: “Way to ruin a party, guys. Why must you think that way? Let me ask you something. Which do you think is easier, to forgive sins, or to tell Bob here to get up and walk?”

The scribes squirm: Where is he going with this?  

They refuse to answer, so Jesus continues: “Well, then, just so there’s no question that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins…” He turns back to Bob, whose eyes suddenly grow wide. “Get up, Bob. Pick up that mat of yours and go home.”

As one, the crowd holds its breath.

Bob stares blankly, as if Jesus had just told him to grow a second head. Then he looks at his once useless legs — and stands up. In a daze, he bends down to pick up his mat. He takes one step, and then another, and then another, as the crowd parts before him.

And suddenly, the awed silence is broken by the sound of whooping and hollering coming through the hole in the roof. “Hey, Bob! Wait for us!”

The crowd erupts in amazed conversation: “Did you see that???”

Jesus laughs again.

But the scribes don’t get the joke.

(Mark 2:1-12)

Too often, I suspect, our respect for the gravity and holiness of God’s word leads us to read the text too somberly, as if comedy should have no place in Scripture. But these are real people interacting in real time — and the situation, I think, is a comic one.

I have no doubt that Jesus had a keen eye for irony; he was a master of it himself. And can we not imagine him rejoicing over seeing people newly healed, delighting in wholeness? Read Luke 15: Jesus tells us again and again that all of heaven erupts in joy when even a single lost person is found. Parties get thrown. Wouldn’t Jesus himself rejoice — and I don’t mean just a slight grin — over every demonstration of God’s love and mercy?

Faith isn’t the only thing that throws unbelief and lostness into sharp relief. Joy does too — because it shows that we get the punchline that is divine grace.