Dear Mike and Lynn,
You make a very good point in that all of the Scriptures seem to have a very serious tone to them. That is true from the sense that the Word of God is given to us as a help to our salvation, so the Word is about a very serious business, but that is not to say that some brevity cannot be found in the Word of God. In approaching the Scriptures, the reader is going to be reading them through a lens, generally from a lens of seriousness. However, we need to remember that the Word of God was not revealed in a vacuum but in the midst of the human condition, so it reflects all aspects of the human condition, good and bad.
In looking at Jesus and whether or not the Gospels reveal him as having a sense of humor, I cannot point to a specific example that answers your question explicitly. However, as I read the Gospels, there are places where I can vividly imagine Jesus saying something with a wry smile or perhaps tongue-in-cheek, such as his first encounter with the Apostle Bartholomew (Nathaniel) in the first chapter of John’s Gospel. Not finding a specifically overt example in the Gospels does not mean though that Jesus did not have a sense of humor.
Let’s consider what our theological tradition tells us about the Lord Jesus. The church believes and teaches that Jesus was like us in all things but sin. From this truth, we then know that Jesus obviously experienced feelings and emotions as we do, and the Gospels do display some of these for us, such as Jesus’s righteous anger which led to the cleansing of the Temple and his weeping at the death of Lazarus. Knowing this, I cannot imagine Jesus as not having a sense of humor, of not being able to laugh at things from time to time. For example, look at the instances in the Gospels where the Apostles at times appear to be clueless regarding what Jesus is trying to teach them. It is not inconceivable to think that there may have been times when the Lord just grinned and shook his head.
There are two dramatic presentations of our Lord’s life which I believe demonstrate his humanity well and both of these presentations rely heavily on the Gospels’ accounts of the life of Jesus. The first is Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. There is a wonderful scene that shows a loving, gentle, and humorous relationship between Jesus and Mary. The second, and my all-time favorite, is Franco Zeffirelli’s 1977 mini-series Jesus of Nazareth where the human nature of Jesus is wonderfully and dynamically portrayed by actor Robert Powell.
The Book of Proverbs tells us “a happy heart lights up the face, but an anguished heart breaks the spirit (Proverbs 15:13).” While the Gospels may not show us directly that our Lord had a sense of humor, I cannot imagine him without one.
Father Chris House is rector of Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield, chancellor and vicar judicial and director of the Department for Canonical and Pastoral Services at the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.