Traditionally, life in a monastery emphasized self-control, including restraint from laughter.
One of the earliest monastic orders, Pachom of Egypt, forbade joking. The Rule of St. Benedict advised monks to “prefer moderation in speech and speak no foolish chatter, nothing just to provoke laughter; do not love immoderate or boisterous laughter.” In Benedict’s Ladder of Humility, Step Ten is a restraint against laughter and Step Eleven is a warning against joking. Why? Part of the reason is because “uncontrollable laughter and jokes are not indications of a well-regulated soul and self-mastery.” Moreover, laughter is also vice: when we laugh at someone we might imagine ourselves to be wealthier, smarter, or more virtuous than them.
In the scripture reading today, we hear that Abraham laughs as he said, “can a child be born to a man who is hundred years old?” Later, we will hear that Sarah also laughs because God told her that she will give birth to a son in her old age. Abraham and Sarah laugh because of their feelings of superiority over God. They seem to know better than God about God’s plan. People dislike to be laughed at because laughter is devaluing. Despite Abraham and Sarah’s laughter, God reaffirms his promise for Sarah to bear a son. Moreover, God reassures Abraham that He will maintain His covenant with Isaac as an everlasting pact, to be his God and the God of his descendants.
Perhaps there was a moment when you laugh at God. In the midst your laughter, what do you want to hear back from God? What do you think God is promising and preparing for you?