“Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, is the man who deceives his neighbor, and says, ‘I was only joking'” (Proverbs 26:19 NKJV).
April 1, or “April Fool’s Day” is a much loved tradition in many areas of North America and Europe. From old clichéd routines to elaborate practical jokes, there will be a lot of “ha, ha, I fooled you” peals of triumph. Those who are the brunt of these jokes will mostly receive them with forced smiles and grudging, “yes, I fell for it,” keeping their resentment or bored “oh, no, not that again,” secret thoughts to themselves.
Many such jokes are truly meant to be in simple good fun, without any intention of doing harm or causing embarrassment or shame. The prudent person is mindful of the calendar, knows such things are likely to come his or her way, and takes them in stride, conceding the jokester’s deceptive cunning with good grace.
But Solomon wisely observed almost three millennia ago, not all jokes are innocent of harmful intent. Many who play practical jokes delight in seeing their victims become uncomfortable or even worse. The wise King likened such deceptions to the random shooting of weapons in crowded places. Those are not the acts of a friend in good humor; they are the behavior of someone who is deranged.
Most of the pranks we see are designed to put the victim at a disadvantage. The intent is to deceive, but also all too frequently to belittle. “I fooled you” is a claim to superiority, a victory shout, and the motive of the jokester is poorly concealed. Far too often, the only way some people know to make themselves feel more important is to humiliate someone else. Jokes are to them a means of accomplishing that.
I have long held to a precaution when inviting others to participate with me in mission campaigns. I ask them to please abstain from any practical jokes while we are traveling and working together. We will have enough problems dealing with unfamiliar environments and cultures, not to mention the inevitable rude surprises we will face. We simply do not need to have to watch our backs to protect ourselves from each other. After a long day of preaching, traveling, and crisis resolution, I don’t relish the idea of finding that my “friend” has placed a dead snake under my pillow.
Come to think of it, I don’t know of any circumstance where I would “enjoy” that experience. It might be fun to others to hear me scream (or watch me die of a heart attack?), but not for me. Does anyone see a possible application of the Golden Rule here? It is hard to miss isn’t it? Most jokes are only fun to one half of the participants. The other half is not amused.
In Paul’s list of things that should “not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints” we find “foolish talking and coarse jesting” (Ephesians 5:3-4). Rather than spend precious time on such things he recommends “giving of thanks.” Previously he had commanded, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).
The jester considers how he might amuse himself at the expense of another. The Holy Spirit urges us to consider how we might encourage the other, and contribute to his or her well-being. As Christians, let us each enjoy our first day of April and use it well. But let us allow others to be the “Fools.”