All families have a first ancestor, a patriarch or matriarch who founded the clan. The Israelites considered themselves descendants of one ancestral couple: Abraham and Sarah. God promised Abraham and Sarah that they would receive land and children. Most of their lives they lived as childless, landless bedouins. Then an angelic visitor came to their tent when Abraham was ninety-nine and Sarah was ninety years old and repeated God’s promise. “You will have land and you will have children.” It was a far-fetched, impossible, unlikely, silly promise. Abraham thought the idea so ridiculous that he bowed down before the angelic visitor and laughed. It seemed laughable, except it was the plan, the promise and the program of God.
Generations before Abraham, there was another example of God’s plan and program that seemed laughable. Noah built a huge boat on dry land. Think of the laughs his neighbours were having at his expense. The Bible can be read as the story of how people reacted to God’s seemingly laughable ideas. Throughout the Bible God seemed to have laughable, impossible, impractical plans and most people didn’t get it.
Generations after Abraham and Sarah the Israelites had multiplied to be a great nation, but were oppressed into slavery in Egypt. One day Moses came to Pharaoh’s palace and said, “Pharaoh, I just got a message from God. God says, ‘Let my people go!’” Imagine the snickering in the back room! “Moses arrived with this crazy idea; God wants us to give up our free labour? Ridiculous! Laughable!”
The exodus is one long comedy. The ten plagues — We read them with such a long and serious face. The plagues are comedy routines. Frogs and gnats and hail and storms are funny! God seems to be toying with the Egyptians, making fun of them. The entire exodus story is full of laughs. First, it is the Egyptians laughing at Moses’ freedom idea. Later, it is God’s last laugh on Egypt.
Finally, the Israelites were on the doorstep of the promised land. The first fortified city they approached was Jericho. Archaeologists say Jericho may be the longest continuously occupied city on earth. Human occupancy at Jericho goes back uninterrupted for ten thousand years. When the Israelites arrived at Jericho, it had been inhabited for 7,500 years. What did the Israelites do? They marched around the city in silence, led by priests. Imagine the guards in Jericho’s towers watching this goofy parade every day and their laughter at these people from the desert. Then, on the seventh day, the Israelites made their circuit and didn’t stop. The priests blew their horns and the laughter of the guards of Jericho was drowned out by the sound of the walls falling down. It seemed laughable, crazy, impossible, and impractical. It was another of God’s big ideas.
Centuries later, a prophet and healer named Jesus made his way around Galilee saying, “If you want to save life, you must lose it. If you give it away, you’ll find it.” – a ridiculous paradox. Jesus said other things that must have sounded hopelessly idealistic. He said not only, “Love your neighbour” but also, “Love your enemy. Pray for those who persecute you.” Such instructions are contrary to the conventional survival wisdom in a dog-eat-dog world. These seemingly laughable instructions are God’s program, promise, and agenda.
What if someone came to us and said, “Take your bombers and make schools, make your tanks into medical clinics and your guns into the implements of agriculture?” Why, we would accuse them of being impractical, crazy, and laughable dreamers. But the Bible tells us that God’s mighty dream is for us to “beat our swords into plowshares.” What if some prophet were to come among us in North America and Europe and say, “It is God’s will that you lower your standard of living 50 percent for the sake of the poor and for the sake of the planet”? We might think that person hopelessly naive, the program laughable. And yet, wouldn’t it be consistent with the biblical admonition to care for creation and for our neighbours?
Often God is calling us to do things that seem altogether out of character, things that would make our neighbours and coworkers laugh and scoff at us. God’s people are still asked to do incredibly foolish, naive, and laughable things. Love your neighbour and your enemy! Pray for those who abuse you! God’s plan, God’s program, God’s agenda is so different from our own and so different from what is expected in our world. Yet, which program really works? God’s? Or the world’s? All of human history has been the story of people who laughed at God’s plan of justice, love, and compassion. We keep on laughing and God keeps on inviting us to be those rare people who understand and try to make God’s plan and dream a reality.