The Serious Business of Joy
Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast? And Jesus said to them, “The wedding guests cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they?” – Matthew 9:14-15
Billy Sunday, a famous evangelist of the early twentieth century, observed, “The trouble with many people is that they have got just enough religion to make them miserable.” They are serious about their religion (which is a good thing) but in a dour way (which is not). They know a good deal about duty but grace is a stranger to them. Their confessions are long and their minds wander during the assurance of pardon. Billy Sunday concluded, “If you have no joy in your religion, there’s a leak in your faith.”
Some critics of Jesus thought he had the opposite problem—he was just too joyful. Jesus and his followers did not fast as often as others did. In fact, Jesus relished food and drink so much that some accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard. Beyond that, Jesus just seemed to be having too good a time. There’s got to be something wrong with that, or so concluded some of his contemporaries.
When the good religious folk (“Good in the worst sense of the word,” as Mark Twain put it) confronted Jesus about this, he likened himself to the groom at a wedding celebration. You cannot expect a groom to be anything but joyful. A groom is supposed to be joyful and there is something amiss if he is not. And those celebrating the wedding are expected to, well, celebrate.
C.S. Lewis once affirmed that, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” Jesus obviously thought joy is the serious business of the living, as well.
God, repair any leaks in my faith by giving me the gift of joy. Amen.
Martin B. Copenhaver is President of Andover Newton Theological School. His newest book is Room to Grow: Meditations on Trying to Live as a Christian. Follow Martin on Twitter @mbcopenhaver.