There is something about wit that charms me. When someone comes back with a sharp reply, especially if it is clever and unexpected, I smile broadly. I almost can’t help but savor the moment. And to me no people group seems to be more proficient at this skill than the players in British fiction, from Shakespeare to Masterpiece Theater to Monty Python. They know how to turn and twist words and use body language to suggest meanings that might never have been there before. Brilliant!
I’ll admit it: I laugh out loud when I read books that have this clever wit. Ask my wife,who finds my responses to books humorous (though that could be a whole separate post). JK Rowling had a fantastic time of it in Harry Potter; Charles Dickens delighted in turns of the phrase. Jane Austen gets me every time – the words she chooses are so biting and yet so kind, disguised in Victorian propriety, covered by the layers of class structure, social mores, and the status of women. Brilliant!
There are two ways that this kind of wit can be used as a form of communication. One way is to put another person in their place. The other way is for sheer, unadulterated entertainment. Sometimes a person/character blends both styles (which isn’t surprising since humiliation can be made entertaining). Now our morality sensitive minds read this and think – Oh, how cruel! or how horrible! and what a selfish thing to do! Using wit as a device seems unnecessary, filled with pride and self-gratification, the complete opposite of the humble Christian way filled with grace and encouragement. But admit it to yourself now that there are moments a well placed barb leaves you cheering the underdog, proud of her/him for standing up to an overwhelming structure and standing for justice with exceptional flair.
I confess now that I am very guilty of enjoying a verbal spar every now and again. In my (somewhat complicated) mind, dialogue can be a bit of a game, a challenge to actively think through communication carefully and come out on top. Perhaps it comes from boredom? I know I am far happier when someone else joins in the repartee. It really isn’t even a matter of winning or losing, now that I come to think about it. But how I feel about it really doesn’t matter as much as do the consequences of my behavior. And if other people love to join, where is the harm in that?
I have (rarely) heard it said that the Bible is against making fun of people. In the first Psalm, the writer warns not to sit in the seat of mockers. I always pictured that as a guy who sits in a courtroom , then stands, points and laughs at anyone who is convicted. That couldn’t be the same thing as wit, right? I mean, it is so, unintelligent.
My eyes were opened if ever so slightly yesterday night at church. Jason Poznaks, who does a fantastic donkey impression, was describing the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. He described this image of a man on a young donkey, swaying about a street lined with people who were throwing their cloaks and palm branches before him. In Jason’s words this was a king’s homecoming, er, except it really wasn’t a king’s homecoming. He talked about what the return of a conquering hero King would look like in those days. The king would enter a city gallant on his best horse, coming before a vast army whose size and prowess promised further victory and the opulent spoils of war. When the King arrived it would mean the war was over and that victory belonged to the people of the kingdom. It was probably the biggest party the people could muster. In comparison, Jesus came on a clunky pinto with a small crew of Occupy San Diegans, each confused about their purpose in being there. Jason also pointed out that this king Jesus, really the King of Kings, was not the ruler or political power that the people wanted, and therefore could never be the expected victor. He was not going to conquer Rome, per se. In a way that we might not understand, Jesus’ entry to the city was kind of a joke, almost unworthy of any fanfare. I am sure that there were people standing by laughing to themselves, or at least slightly poking fun at Jesus to the person standing next to them.
Now this was meant to be the grandest affair, an important step to fulfill the promises Gad had made hundreds of years before. And it did fulfill the prophecy, to the letter. But why did Jesus have to ride in on a donkey? Why couldn’t he have blown everyone away? Because God has a sense of humor, a grand wit about him. Its purpose; to put people into their place by revealing who He is. How funny that God would send a king on a donkey!
When Jesus received a complaint from the Pharisees about his disciples’ celebration, he claimed that even the rocks would cry out in worship if the people stayed silent. Why? Because the rocks get the obvious truth that the Pharisees were missing. Call it hyperbole if you will, but here we are again with a sharp wit that demonstrates the vast chasm between the thoughts of men and God. Did God want to make a show of this? I don’t think that is God’s style, at least most of the time. But he certainly made a scene either way.
So I come back to this whole thing of mockery or wit or linguistic olympics….can that side of me peaceably coexist with this transformed world view? Being honest with myself, if I had to fast from being witty for entertainment’s sake it would probably really get to me. And knowing that it would get to me means I probably need to do it.
As for whether it is right or wrong, does it matter? Perhaps, like the Pharisees, I would be getting upset about something that isn’t even the point. My God is creative with how He relates with people so therefore shouldn’t I be? One day it might be through fire in the sky and the next day a talking donkey, but God has a keen sense for reaching the human condition. Why shouldn’t I approach other people in a human way, in a way that relates to them, and relates me to them like a well-made bridge? Like a Pharisee I could fall on the side of fear and pocket the dangerous possibility that I may do or say something wrong. But would that be living? Talking about all of this makes me realize that I don’t know God in this way. I don’t approach Him with a smile and clever words because I know He is always going to be greater than I am. And yet He is overjoyed to teach me in unexpected ways, to lead me down paths that draw me in closer. Why can’t we flirt with one another, or at least dance or wrestle? Perhaps a fast would give me an opportunity that I have never taken before – to get to know God better in his sense of humor and irony, to approach the Almighty knowing well that it could be abrasive to my pride but delightful to my soul.