Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 89:1-18; 147:1-11, 1 Samuel 2:12-26, Acts 2:1-21, Luke 20:27-40
Most comedians try to follow the rule “don’t punch down.” In other words, no cheap shots at the expense of people whose circumstances put them at a disadvantage relative to yourself. For instance, able-bodied people making jokes about people with disabilities (which differs from crafting humor in solidarity) is not appropriate. “Don’t punch down” is a good rule to follow for everyone. Generally speaking, our gains should not place unwelcome financial, physical, or emotional burdens on those who are less fortunate.
The sons of Eli, the head priest at the temple of Shiloh, didn’t seem to get that memo. They also served as priests, but abused their authority terribly. They stole for their own tables the best portions of the meat their fellow Israelites brought for sacrifice. They forced themselves on women who served the temple. Sadly they got away with these things because their supposed moral authority intimidated those they were meant to serve.
When we find ourselves at the wrong end of a punchline, we may be tempted to play the victim. At those times it’s important to learn to take a joke, unpack it, and accept the sting of any truth it contains. We don’t always realize who or how we exploit until someone points it out to us.
Like good comedy, good religion doesn’t punch down. It doesn’t increase the bounty of the already well-to-do – particularly clergy – at the financial expense of the poor or the social expense of the marginalized. This might seem like common sense, but too many religious leaders have grown rich and pews full by exploiting the vulnerable. A popular (but debatable) notion says that in ages past the court jester could use humor to speak truth to power without suffering the same consequences as would more political members of the court. Shaming common sinners takes neither courage nor conviction; confronting a hypocritical and corrupt establishment requires both and more. If, as Paul says, we are to be fools for Christ, let us be the type of fool who shines a light on abuses of power and gives voice to the voiceless.
Read more on today’s passage from Luke in Puzzling It Out.
Comfort: Christ opens his arms wide to those who are foolish for him.
Challenge: Learn to laugh at yourself.
Prayer: God, give me the courage to seek justice, and the humor to survive it. Amen.
Discussion: What’s your favorite joke?
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