The Sarcasm Chasm


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 12; 146, Deuteronomy 30:11-20, 2 Corinthians 11:1-21a, Luke 19:1-10

Do you have any friends who describe themselves as “fluent in sarcasm?” It’s a popular phrase. Some people describing themselves this way  do indeed understand the definition and subtleties of sarcasm, but others use it to excuse a general attitude of – for lack of a better term – meanness. Sarcasm, irony, and snark seem to have become the default mode of communication for many people, often as a substitute for wit – which itself has become more of an end than a means. All these tools can be used to make effective points and observations, but only when they are used strategically. We may enjoy rough and tumble banter with our friends, but constant, almost competitive sarcasm erodes actual communication and civility. Sincerity has almost become countercultural.

Paul was not afraid of employing sarcasm, but he did it sparingly and effectively. When members of the church in Corinth started falling for flashy and gimmicky preachers claiming to represent Christ but really representing their own self interests, he sarcastically referred to himself as a fool.

For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves! For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

Imagine how the people of Corinth must have sensed his frustration in these biting words! Paul can get away with it because most of the time he is sincere – almost painfully so.

Proverbs 15:4 tells us “The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” Ecclesiastes 10:12 says “Words from the mouth of the wise are gracious, but fools are consumed by their own lips.” Perhaps the key to effective sarcasm is recognizing the difference between using it to make an actual point, and using it to make ourselves seem clever at another’s expense.

The capacity for language is a gift from God. So is humor. Let’s use them both in ways that build each other up.

Comfort: You don’t have to be clever to be loving.

Challenge: Go on sarcasm fast for a day. Or, if you are not prone to sarcasm, think about constructive ways to respond to it.

Prayer: God in my mind, God in my heart, God on my lips. Amen.

Discussion: Do you have any thoughts on the use of sarcasm in our current culture?

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