“Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.” -Luke 6:25
My brother is a professional comedy writer, and I am a priest. We pretty much have the same job, as I remind him regularly. Both of our vocations are concerned with finding the subtlest meaning in life, and transforming it so that people can better understand.
What is appropriate subject matter is a hot topic of conversation in both of our communities. The church community struggles right now with its stance towards the government, the rising tide of anger and hatred, and wonders what its role might be. How do we preach prophetically without alienating those who need to hear us? How do we stay pastoral to those who need comforting, while recalling that for many, comfort can only be found on the far side of challenge? And, oh yes, we do still need that IRS safeguard, and the long-time parishioners who look askance at all mention of anything political from the pulpit. How to navigate this brave new world we inhabit?
The comedy community, my brother tells me, has a catchphrase: punch up, don’t punch down. It signifies the difference between mocking someone or something with more power than you, and mocking someone or something with less power than you. Generally speaking, it is acceptable to punch up; it is not acceptable to punch down. Eddie Izzard’s jokes about the clueless and privileged British conquering an empire through the use of flags is funny; attempting to mock ethnicities or nations because they were conquered is not even okay.
Jesus’ warning to those who laugh now seems to me to be a warning against punching down. Don’t be so quick to laugh at those who are less fortunate, who are less privileged than yourself. Don’t add to their pain and suffering. The role of the faithful is to side with the unfortunate, and the lowest of the low, standing so close to them as to be unable to distinguish daylight between them and us. We cannot be faithful followers of Jesus if we separate ourselves from the least and the lost through mockery.
Megan Castellan is our writer this week. She serves as Assistant Rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Kansas City, Missouri, and diocesan youth coordinator for the Metro Kansas City area. Her ongoing adventures and strong opinions are chronicled in her blog Red Shoes, Funny Shirt and on Twitter @revlucymeg. In her spare time, she enjoys singing, playing with yarn, throwing jellybeans at politicians she disagrees with on TV, and cheering on KC-based sportsball teams.