When the Sadducees ask Jesus about marriage and the resurrection (Luke 20:27-40), they are not asking the question in good faith. They are being smart alecks. They are trying to trip Him up. “So there’s a resurrection, huh? Well what about a woman who is widowed seven times, whose wife will she be in the resurrection, huh? Answer us that!”
This very same question could be asked in a genuine way, by a genuine seeker, a true student, asked in humility. Our Lord’s answer is difficult and mystical, probably for the same reason He spoke in parables, so that those who were approaching Him in bad faith would be stymied.
… but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them. (Mark 4:10-12)
Do we then, approach God, or approach anything in life, especially learning, with a know-it-all “eristic” attitude of pride and combativeness, or with the humility that will open our eyes and ears so that even parables and the mysteries of the resurrection may perhaps reveal their secrets to us?
In a similar way, the prideful suitors of Portia in The Merchant of Venice are flummoxed by their own characters, undone by their own wrong approach.
O these deliberate fools! When they do choose,
They have the wisdom by their wit to lose.
We can see this also in humor. There is the comic who goes for the cheap laugh or the situation comedy that revels in mean sarcasm and vulgarity, in annoying double entendres and in something that, while it may make some people guffaw, does not bring the disarming and delightful insight that something truly funny brings us to.
Therefore St. Paul can condemn “eutrepelia” as being a form of irritating jocularity that always aims to please and to produce a superficial and crass looseness with the world, while others (including Aristotle) can point to eutrepelia as a virtue, a mean between “boorishness and buffoonery”. The difference is in the spirit with which one approaches humor, or even good-naturedness. Are we pleasant so as to be men-pleasers and close the sale? Or are we pleasant because of our joy in the Providence of God?
How many of our bad moods are the result of taking ourselves too seriously? How many of our good moods are mere masks to curry favor with others? Do we argue in order to win, or in order to approach the truth or lead others to the truth? Do we josh around to bring the conversation down, or because the cosmos is, in one sense, tremendously funny and God wants us to get the joke?