As we witnessed during his U.S. visit, Pope Francis is a man of high spirits and good humor—he smiles, laughs and embraces people freely. In today’s Gospel we meet the apostle Nathanael, also someone with a great sense of humor. Before this passage, Nathanael had been told that Jesus came from the insignificant town of Nazareth, a hamlet of only 200 to 400 people.
His response? “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
We often glaze over that sentence, but it is a real insult of Jesus’ hometown. And what did Jesus do in response? Does he condemn Nathanael? Does he refuse to speak to him? Not at all! In fact he praises him saying that there is no “duplicity” in him. It’s a reminder that Jesus not only tolerated good humor, but welcomed it. In fact, Nathanael was welcomed into the circle of the apostles.
As Pope Francis reminds us so often, the goal of the Christian life is not seriousness, but something else: joy.
—Fr. James Martin, SJ, is the author of our special series of reflections in honor of Pope Francis’ visit to the U.S. Fr. Martin is associate editor of America magazine; a frequent commentator in the media; and author of many books, including, most recently, Jesus: A Pilgrimage and his novel The Abbey.