• John Branyan

Sarcastic Saints

How would you answer the question, “Do you think you’re better than me because you’re a Christian?” My answer was, “Yes. Of course!” I knew that answer would ruffle some feathers (and that’s precisely why I said it.)

The Bible tells us the source of every good and perfect gift. The Father of heavenly lights sends us everything we call “good.” My list of “good things” is quite long but here are a few of my favorites, in no particular order:

  • butter

  • noise canceling headphones

  • board games

  • water heaters

  • any and all of the 5 senses

  • laughter

  • sarcasm

I’m certain there is no disagreement between us regarding the goodness of butter and board games, but I suspect that the inclusion of “sarcasm” on my list will ruffle some feathers (and that’s precisely why I included it.)

My career as a professional comedian spans multiple decades, but I was a Christian before I was a comedian. I’ve had numerous conversations about whether or not “Christian” and “comedy” are mutually exclusive terms. Some of my brothers and sisters in the faith struggle to understand how I justify speaking in parody, satire, and sarcasm while also claiming to be an “imitator of God.” The explanation is shockingly simple. All God’s gifts are good and sarcasm comes from God.

Comedian John Branyan in action.

While you’re sharpening your pitchfork and marching toward my house to put an end to my heresy, I’ll do my best to explain. Sarcasm has several definitions but for the sake of my argument, I'll choose one that seems to be most at odds with Christianity.


Sarcasm: “A biting taunt or gibe, or the use of such a taunt; a bitter, cutting expression; a satirical remark or expression, uttered with scorn or contempt; in rhetoric, a form of irony; bitter irony.” That’ll work! 

Taunting, biting, cutting, bitterness, contempt, and scorn are not usually associated with the Christian faith. None of those things qualify as “fruits of the Spirit.” With that definition, the only justification any Christian would have for communicating with sarcasm is if there is some precedent in scripture. Thankfully, there is such a precedent.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9

“And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” Matthew 3:9

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.” Matthew 23:27

Elijah owning the prophets of Baal.

"When it was noon, Elijah taunted them: “Call louder, for he is a god; he may be busy doing his business, or may be on a journey. Perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 1 Kings 18:27

“Would that those who are upsetting you might also castrate themselves!” Galatians 5:12


These are just a few examples of sarcastic taunting and contemptuous scorn in the Bible. There are many more. You will notice that Jesus Himself has some of the most cutting retorts.


The only begotten Son of God speaks sarcasm on occasion—so does that mean Jesus was motivated by malice, conceit, and an ill-temper? Hardly.

Jesus used sarcasm in love.

That’s a brain melter, isn’t it? It doesn’t quite compute that compassion can drive one person to mock another. It seems impossible that a jeering taunt can be an act of love. But how else can we explain the many examples of God’s people (including Jesus!) cracking wise?


It may help to think of sarcasm as a quieter, more sophisticated form of screaming. Screaming is one way to get someone’s attention. Communication can’t happen until you and I are listening to each other. When you shriek, it may startle and upset me, but I’ll definitely be more focused. Sarcasm may offend, anger, or hurt me but it also forces me to pay attention. When Jesus said offensive things, nobody ignored Him.


Here's another important reason why Jesus had to cut a little: He always spoke the truth. And sometimes the truth hurts. A little or a lot.

If we’re imitating Christ, then we’re also speaking the truth, and we should make sure we’re not being ignored. That’s why I answered, “Yes,” to the question, “Do you think you’re better than me because you’re a Christian?”


Generally, it'd be outrageous for me to suggest I'm superior to another human being, but doing so created the opportunity to elaborate. Without raising my voice, I had the full attention of everyone in the room. So I told them the truth.

“Being a Christian makes me better than non-Christians. That’s the reason I became a Christian! I realized that I am a mean, selfish, thoughtless, arrogant, stubborn, wicked soul. I wanted to be better. The message of Christianity is that terrible people like me can become heirs to God’s kingdom. Because of Jesus, I can transform from a wretched, depraved creature into something brand new. Something much, much, much better.”

Of course, sarcasm can be misused. That’s true of every form of communication. Compliments are misused when they are manipulative. Encouragement is misused when it is insincere. Even silence is misused when it is the result of cowardice. Misuse of God’s good gifts does not make the gifts themselves “bad.”


An excellent book on the Christian use of satire.

The tricky part is knowing when we're using sarcasm improperly. Unfortunately, the Christian faith requires that we constantly measure our attitude and activities against the perfect standard of Jesus Christ. Truthfully, I would prefer to exercise wit, humor, and sarcasm without restrictions, but I'm not as smart as God, and my preferences are usually sinful. So I'll offer two rules of thumb and one rule of big toe, because I only have 2 thumbs.


Rule of Thumb 1 - Mock Ideas, Not People

Don't make personal attacks. Scripture warns us that we are not fighting flesh and blood. We are at war with falsehood and evil. Sarcasm, used correctly, will decimate bad ideas without wounding the people that hold them. When the people see their horrible faith in tatters, you can offer them a better one.



Rule of Thumb 2 - The Goal Is To Reveal Truth, Not Win Arguments

The truth will set people free. Scornful rhetoric that doesn't point to the truth is useless at best and harmful at worst. Check your attitude. If your satirical jabs accomplish nothing more than making you look witty, apologize and change course.


Rule of Big Toe 1 - Aim Sarcasm At Yourself Sometimes (because it keeps you humble)

Another way to say this is, "Learn to take a joke." Take inventory of your own flaws and hypocrisies so you can jeer at them. It's better to spend an afternoon in a hot car with a bucket of Limburger cheese than to spend a micro-second with someone who insists on always being taken seriously.


Years ago I was performing comedy at a bar. I was one of several comedians doing short sets that night. The comedian before me did 6 minutes of horrible jokes about Christians. They were vulgar, mean, and worst of all, untrue. (Comedy must always be true to be truly funny.) The audience sat in stunned silence as he left the stage and I was introduced.


The first words out of my mouth into the microphone were, "You know what your problem is, Kevin? Your jokes weren't true. You obviously haven't encountered a live Christian in the wild. I spend every Sunday morning surrounded by them! I go to church and I'm up to my armpits in Jesus freaks! Let me tell you what they're really like." The audience howled. Then I did 6 minutes of jokes about Christians--the same jokes I do at church.


Later, I was talking to the bartender and another comic. The bartender pointed at me and said, "This guy just made fun of Christians, and he is one!" He might've thought he was embarrassing me, but suddenly I had the attention of everyone within earshot, and I used it to the glory of God by presenting a version of the Gospel that even drunk people can understand.


The Gospel for Drunk People

I start by asking,"Have you ever known anybody who's a jackass?" Then I listen to semi-coherent tales of transgressions committed by bosses, co-workers, neighbors, and spouses. "Yeah," I say, nodding vigorously, "People are awful. Has anyone ever called you a jackass?" Unless the person's blood alcohol content is so high they've passed out, this question is usually answered in the affirmative. I respond, while nodding vigorously, "Yeah. People are awful."

Jesus gets the party started in Cana (by marten de Vos)

At that point, I can deliver my sermon, "That's why Jesus Christ is the best deal you'll ever make. I mean, look at you. You're surrounded by a lousy boss, lousy co-workers, lousy neighbors, and a lousy spouse. There are rotten people all around you, and you just admitted you're no better than they are! If anyone offers you a chance to improve your circumstances, you'd be an idiot not to take it. So here's the deal. Jesus was God, walking around in human form. He lived a perfect life but died a convicted criminal. Do you know why? So you could be a jackass and still get to Heaven."


"Jesus suffered for your awful mistakes," I continue. "That's called sin in the Bible and it earns the death penalty. Jesus paid the death penalty for your sin so you can go free, but it's up to you. If you'd rather, you can keep on being a jackass and die."


I keep my tone playful during my Gospel for Drunk People, so I've never had anyone throw a punch yet, but I can't guarantee it will never happen.


Following Jesus is not safe and somber. Christ was audacious, irreverent, and completely counter-cultural. And He told us be just like Him. That's why people shouldn't be surprised when Christians are interesting and unconventional and willing to say more than just, "God loves you and so do I."


Jesus himself had so much more to say, and he had more than one way to say it.

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