Weird monk jokes
I have lately been reading stories of the desert monastics, collected by the monk John Moschos in the seventh century. I donâ€™t think I get it.
My pattern has been to feel slightly offendedâ€”sometimes even disgustedâ€”by a story, and then walk away from it, wander around for awhile and finally realize that the story was probably a joke. In its own context, the main thing it elicited was probably laughter. But for me the humor is so strange, so wry, so unexpected that I donâ€™t perceive it for hours.
Take this one. A monk was visiting another community when he died and was buried in the strangersâ€™ cemetery. The day after his burial, a woman was buried on top of him. A few hours later, the earth â€śthrew her up.â€ť They buried her again on the same spot. But the next day they found her again on top of the grave. So they buried her somewhere else.
A few days later, another woman died and they buried her on top of the monkâ€™s grave. When the earth threw her up as well, they realized that the monk â€śwould not allow a woman to be buried on top of him.â€ť
Hereâ€™s one where the joke hits a little closer to home for me. A priest had the job of baptizing new converts, but â€śit was an occasion of acute embarrassment to him whenever he had to baptize a woman.â€ť Nobody would let him get out of it. His superiors refused to appoint a female deacon to do the job. He prayed to John the Baptist for help, but none came.
Finally, when he had to baptize a beautiful â€śPersian damsel,â€ť he was so distressed that he ran away. On the hills above his monastery, he encountered John the Baptist. John said kindly to him, â€śGo back to your place. I will make it easier for you.â€ť
But the priest was angry and said, â€śYou have often made that promise to me and you have done nothing about it. I wonâ€™t go back.â€ť
So John made him sit down, stripped him of his clothes and made the sign of the cross three times â€śbeneath his navel.â€ť â€śI wanted you to carry some reward from the struggle,â€ť John said, â€śbut since you did not wish it to be so, I have caused the struggle to cease. But you shall have no reward for this.â€ť
The priest returned to his duties, and the next day baptized the Persian woman â€świthout even being aware that she was of the female sex.â€ť Twelve years later, he died.
As the humor of these stories slowly dawns on me, I hope the wisdom will as well.