None of you have probably heard the story of the Laughing Jesus because it wasn't selected to go into the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, the commonly known texts handed down to us about the life of Jesus. When people are oppressed, they tend to forget the laughter and remember the hatred. The times in Jerusalem when Jesus lived were not very happy because the Jewish people suffered under the domination of the Romans. And neither the Jewish kings who cooperated with the Romans nor the Roman governors liked people who stirred up trouble.
Jesus was a troublemaker, a challenger of the ways things were being done, and a prophet recalling the Jewish people to the true way of the Torah, the sacred scripture of the Jews.
Jesus did a lot of talking. He liked to debate and a crowd would gather when he and his disciples came into town. There were many stories about what he said and did so it doesn't surprise me if you haven't heard this one.
Where did I hear it? Well, lets just save that story for another day.
This story begins in one of the towns of Galilee, the area Jesus did much of his ministry. In this town lived a boy named Ethan who could not have been more than ten years old. Ethan looked much older than his age for he had lived far beyond his years. You see, the boy was an orphan. His father had been killed by a drunken centurion and his mother had died in childbirth. He had no other family in the area and no one would take him in because his family was from Samaria and the townfolk looked down on Samarians. Finding no help he began living on the street.
Ethan slept at night in a manger in exchange for carrying water for the animals to drink first thing in the morning while the stars still shone in the heavens. Each day he visited the farmers in town to see if they had any work to be done in the fields. The work day began at sun up and finished just after sun down. He was paid just enough to buy a small loaf of bread which kept him from starving. Because he could save no money or food from day to day, he worked every day - or did not eat at all. Fortunately for Ethan, he was blessed with a sharp mind. Without it he surely would have perished.
The town was on a road to Jerusalem and Rabbis on occasion stopped to spend the night. Often the townsfolk would gather to hear the Rabbi talk. Ethan enjoyed hearing the Rabbis debate points of law expounding great principles and ideas. Ethan tried to figure out the answer to a question put to the Rabbi before the Rabbi spoke. Ethan loved the stories they would tell to inspire people's faith that God would not forget them and someday would lift them up and send the Romans packing. This gave Ethan hope that someday he too might have a home, his own cow, and a small plot of land to grow vegetables when the Romans were gone.
One evening when Ethan was returning from tilling the barley crop, he noticed a new Rabbi was in town. He also noticed the crowd which gathered around the new Rabbi was much larger than normal and some gentiles or non- Jews were part of the group listening. Words were being exchanged at a fast pace. Ethan asked a woman on the outer edge of the crowd who the Rabbi was and she shushed him replying quickly, "Shhhh, he is Jesus of Nazareth."
Ethan pressed into the crowd so he could see and hear. As fate would have it he pushed up against the wrong man, a Roman soldier watching the crowd for trouble. The Centurion looked down at the Samaritan boy and gave him a fast hard kick shouting, "Get away you little scum!" (actually he said this in a way we shouldn't talk in a Sunday service - this translation will give you the gist of what was said).
Well the Rabbi Jesus stopped talking, and looked around. "What scum wishes to come and sit at my feet?" he said. "Open the way for the little scum!"
The crowd became silent as they looked around to see who Jesus was talking about. This was Ethan's chance. Rubbing his sore rear end, he dove into the crowd, wiggling and jiggling until he was at Jesus' feet. Jesus smiled and asked the boy to sit next to him.
This stirred up the crowd because everyone knew he was a Samaritan and more than that, the boy was unclean (in more ways than one). The most obvious way were the sores on his skin. In Jewish purity law of those days 2000 years ago, if someone had sores on their skin, they were unclean and shunned. The local religious know-it-alls who had been debating Rabbi Jesus brought this to his attention by saying, "Rabbi, you defile yourself by sitting with this unclean child. Send him away."
All eyes were now on Rabbi Jesus to see what he would say or do next. Again the Rabbi smiled and said, "We will see if this child is really clean or unclean by asking him three questions."
The crowd murmured in curiosity. What would the Rabbi ask that would show this defiled child to be clean? The evidence, the sores on his skin, was right in front of their eyes!
Jesus asked his first question, "Boy, who are your mother and father?"
Ethan, enjoying greatly being the center of attention replied, "Rabbi, I have no father or mother for they are both dead. No one has taken me in for I am from Samaria. So now my mother is the earth which gives my body rest as I sleep on her at night and my father is the sky which guides me as I walk home from the fields at night."
Noises of surprise rippled through the crowd as they did not even realize the boy they often kicked out of their way could speak such words.
Jesus looking straight into Ethan's eyes asked his second question, "Boy, by what do you gain your daily bread?"
Ethan straightened up proudly, "I earn my bread by working in the fields each day. When I have no work, I only eat by the generosity of those who offer me bread in the street. If I can buy no bread and none is given to me in the street, the bread I eat is the hope that someday I shall have my own land to grow grain to make my own bread. This bread of hope sustains me until my next meal.
Jesus without a trace of emotion asked his third question, "Boy, what sustains your spirit?"
Ethan thought for a moment and then answered, "Since I must labor from before the sun rises till late in the evening , I have no time or money to practice the rituals and ceremonies of any religion. My spirit is often weary. What restores me is seeing the birds fly high in the sky, watching the tiny barley seeds sprouting up out of the ground reaching for the sun, enjoying the pinks and oranges and purples of a sunset, feeling the friendliness of the animals with which I sleep and hearing the Rabbis tell of the good days to come when God will triumph over evil. Even though I am an homeless orphan outcast, I know there is beauty and kindness and generosity in this world. This sustains my spirit."
Everyone was silent after hearing the boy's words. Then Jesus began to laugh. He laughed so hard his whole body shook. This wasn't the ordinary kind of laugh when someone falls down on a banana peel, or when someone says something foolish. It was a kind of laughter that makes you feel all warm inside. It was the kind of laughter that when you heard it, you couldn't help but begin to laugh as well. Soon the whole crowd was falling over in laughter. When everyone quieted down, Jesus smiled at the boy and said "Everyone here has thought you to be unclean but the beauty of your words show a heart of great purity for it is what comes out of our mouths that reveal us, not our outer appearance."
And from that day forward, the boy found favor in that community, was taken in by the man and his wife who owned the stable in which he slept and eventually inherited their land as the couple was childless. He never forgot the kindness of Rabbi Jesus and told this story many times hoping it would be told many years to come. You can pass it on as well.
And strange as it may seem, after Ethan met Rabbi Jesus, his sores disappeared. If you asked me why, I'd have to shrug my shoulders and say I don't know. What I do know is that magical things do happen when a child is given love, attention and respect.
Copyright (c) 1995 Rev. Samuel A. Trumbore, All Rights Reserved.