“Sarcasm is a tool of the weak.” My girlfriend has said this to me many times in an attempt to break me of my sarcastic remarks. Most of the time, to be honest, it makes little impact because I don’t think it is actually true. Sarcasm is not a tool of the weak; it is used by those who are strong (with words) and it is inherently violent.
We have all had those exchanges where for a moment we thought the other person was being serious, perhaps even complimentary only to find that they were being sarcastic. Sure, it might hurt a little bit but it isn’t necessarily violent, is it?
As followers of Jesus, I think we let ourselves off the hook too easily when it comes to sarcasm. Sure, there’s room for a joke among friends, but too often that comes at someone else’s expense.
As a pacifist, I have some strong views on peace and violence (you can read more about them here and here). Yet the way of peace that Jesus outlines is not simply one of physical nonviolence; it also extends to every aspect of our lives, including (and perhaps especially) our words. We rarely want to admit this demand on the entirety of our lives and so we go on speaking as we want, sarcastically.
Sarcasm is inherently violent movement; it seeks to cut someone down (whether explicitly or implicitly) and goes directly against Jesus’s call to peace. We lash out with our tongue and then forget about our statement, let alone any pain we may have caused. If we are seeking to be peacemakers (who are blessed according to Jesus), then these are the very things we should be worried about – things that wound, hurt, and create tension. There is simply no such thing as “just a joke”, if it’s a word of violence.
I am well aware of the fact that Jesus used sarcasm at times. Of course there are contexts in which a subtle joke is appreciated and enjoyed. My comments are not a blanket condemnation.
However, neither should sarcasm receive a blanket recommendation. We need a greater awareness of the power of our language to both bring peace and heal as well as hurt and destroy and until we have that, even a joke among friends can run dangerously counter to the peace Jesus’s longs to bring to our world.
Words have power. To create and destroy. To hate and to love. To jest and to wound. Until we realize this and allow Jesus’s lordship to extend even to our tongues, we will too often fall into the trap of “it’s just sarcasm”. But sarcasm is not a tool of the weak, it’s a tool of the violent.