The necessity of an Easter joke

To begin with, perhaps an introduction to jokes is in order:

One of the popular myths of the late Communist regimes in Eastern Europe was that there was a department of the secret police whose function was (not to collect, but) to invent and put in circulation political jokes against the regime and its representatives, as they were aware of jokes’ positive stabilizing function (political jokes offer to ordinary people an easy and tolerable way to blow off steam, easing their frustrations). Attractive as it is, this myth ignores a rarely mentioned but nonetheless crucial feature of jokes: they never seem to have an author, as if the question “who is the author of this joke?” were an impossible one. Jokes are originally “told,” they are always-already “heard” (recall the proverbial “Did you hear that joke about …?”). Therein resides their mystery: they are idiosyncratic, they stand for the unique creativity of language, but are nonetheless “collective,” anonymous, authorless, all of a sudden here out of nowhere. The idea that there has to be an author of a joke is properly paranoiac: it means that there has to be an “Other of the Other,” of the anonymous symbolic order, as if the very unfathomable contingent generative power of language has to be personalized, located into an agent who controls it and secretly pulls the strings. This is why, from the theological perspective, God is the ultimate jokester. This is the thesis of Isaac Asimov’s charming short story “Jokester,” about a group of historians of language who, in order to support the hypothesis that God created man out of apes by telling them a joke (he told apes who, up to that moment, were merely exchanging animal signs, the first joke that gave birth to spirit), try to reconstruct this joke, the “mother of all jokes.” (Incidentally, for a member of the Judeo- Christian tradition, this work is superfluous, since we all know what this joke was: “Do not eat from the tree of knowledge!”—the first prohibition that clearly is a joke, a perplexing temptation whose point is not clear.[1]

Coming from the Judeo-Christian tradition, my immediate realization that is perfectly relevant this day is: how can God take too seriously a joke he once played Abraham with? He made it successfully – God sent his only-begotten Son for mankind and let him die on the cross as an offering for our sins. What a naïve thing to do, which Abraham could have done also but not without fear and trembling as Kierkegaard observes. Abraham as a father had the guts to sacrifice his son in parallel to his sacrifice of his freedom; but that was a joke and God must have laughed at how serious Abraham was, given that an angel whose perspicacity knows the non-literal was already there to stop him.

And yet no angel stopped the joke God played humanity with – no one stopped the Romans from killing his son. In the crucifixion scene, God played the literal joke on Himself. It was almost like a serious attempt at contradicting the only angel who can muster a rebellion against Him, Satan. In the Old Testament tale of Job, Satan must have thought that he won over God in influencing him to test his faithful servant. But God wasn’t acting out of compliance; the tale of Job will soon find its corresponding scenario in the crucifixion: that death, pain of loss, and morose sickness, is only as good as a joke compared to what God has prepared after, which St. Paul describes as “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:9)

God no longer needs faith in Himself; he doesn’t need to prove anything. But he did and the joke is now perpetually played on us. What have we done to make us even sharers of this literal joke? We have only sinned, allowed the ape in us to eat from the tree of knowledge, and yet we still cannot comprehend how God has eased the yoke we bear upon grabbing the dramatic ennui of finding meaning in the world.

The only logical conclusion to this can be drawn from the joke’s necessity: it moves us into the light of his love for us. How? Here, it is important to note the difference between tragedy and comedy. A tragedy is an opus which moves from light to darkness: it reveals the human drama of suffering with the prospect of inner catharsis. While comedy is the movement in reverse: from a darkness into light, dispelling our wonder why Dante’s trilogy (of Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) deserves the category of comedy. Against the critique that Christianity’s tradition has only repeatedly killed Christ by reminding ourselves of the morbid sign of the cross with the sarcastic inscription Iēsus Nazarēnus, Rēx Iūdaeōrum, the more soothing deduction is precisely the opposite: the cross is not the simulacrum of death but of life. It shines more than ever in the gloomy afternoon whence the world stood silent at the death of a God, because since then, new life has opened for the glory and light to come.

The joke necessitates the eschatological destiny in Easter. Isn’t this the perfect cause for us to celebrate, this new rhythm of life resounding its glorious upbeat? Nietzsche jerked that he will only believe in a God who can dance. Well, call him out and let’s feast together with the Risen Lord who successfully relayed the joke this beautiful and most jovial of days!

Happy Easter!

[1] “On the Role of Jokes in the Becoming-Man of Ape”. Slavoj Žižek, Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (London: Verso, 2012), 94–95.

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