It was my first church after my seminary education. My old Ford Galaxie 500 had served me well, but it was about shot. I traded it for a brand new 1977 Ford Taurus. I chose a copper colored one. I was so proud. Really proud.
The first Sunday after buying it, a church member sarcastically said to me, “That’s the ugliest color I’ve ever seen on a car.” I was crestfallen. I didn’t know what to say. It was a left hook out of nowhere.
The member saw my countenance and said, “Just kidding.”
“Really? My first new car and you trash it? Come on! I thought to myself.”
This man had always been hostile toward me. And, I discovered he was like that with all of the pastors who preceded me. More than that, he was just a hostile, angry man mad at the world. His children and wife feared him and his temper.
Sarcasm cuts like a knife. It’s not very nice, and people who use sarcasm are rarely kidding.
Oscar Wilde said “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.” This is because sarcastic comments, though humorous, are usually passive-aggressive and they are mean and uncomfortable words for the people receiving them.
The dictionary defines sarcasm as “the use of irony to mock or convey contempt; a sharply ironical taunt; sneering or cutting remark.”
Psychologist Clifford N. Lazarus describes sarcasm as “hostility disguised as humor.” Sarcastic people are hostile people with unresolved anger and frustration issues that they are not even aware of. Sarcasm is ridicule or mockery used harshly, crudely and to show contempt for destructive purposes.
I have to think the sarcastic remarks aimed at Jesus as He hung on the cross hurt Him as much as the torture inflicted upon Him albeit in a different kind of pain. The sarcasm cut Him deeply in His emotions like they do anyone who is the brunt of destructive mockery.
“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days! Come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!” (Mark 15:29-31). These remarks are the apex of sarcasm because they were directed at God, the Son.
When you come right down to it, sarcasm is a subtle form of bullying and most bullies are angry, insecure cowards. Jesus chose to be powerless on the cross. The cowardly passers by, chief priests, and teachers of the law were insecure cowards. That’s the way of bullies in picking on someone powerless who can’t or won’t fight back.
Essentially, sarcasm is a survival technique for the insecure. It’s used by the sarcastic person to make him appear to be stronger or better than the one they bully. It is also an attempt to gain power and control over someone perceived as a threat to them. Putting down another through sarcasm elevates a person to a superior position in a warped kind of thinking.
Sarcasm is a form of verbal aggression and verbal abuse that puts the object of sarcasm in a defensive posture. Sarcastic people are usually passive-aggressive meaning they don’t have the guts to assert themselves and express their feelings for fear of a confrontation or even a fight. So, their biting remarks are like a backhanded way of slapping someone they hold in contempt.
Sarcasm can stem from jealousy too. A thrilled young lady shows off her engagement ring to her friends at dinner. Her jealous “friend” sarcastically says, “I thought it would be bigger than that. Is that the best he could do for you?” And then adds, “I hope you weren’t offended. I was just kidding of course. I hope you can take a joke!” But, the jealous, sarcastic girl has just ruined dinner for everyone. An uneasiness settles over the table. Everyone is uncomfortable whereas before there was laughter, congratulations, and merriment.
Sarcastic people are not the life of the party. They are NOT fun to be around. They are party poopers. Most will think long and hard about associating with a sarcastic person. And then, that person wonders why they are lonely and have few if any true friends.
Professional comedians make a lot of money with their sarcastic ridicule of politicians, celebrities, and anyone else who makes a good joke for them. But among friends, a sarcastic remark cuts to the bone of the one receiving the sarcastic remark.
We may think it’s funny to humiliate another with cutting sarcasm, but it’s no laughing matter for the person who is the butt of the joke.
That’s why we need to heed the good word of Scripture. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV).
May our words be seasoned with grace. May they build up and not tear down. May they encourage rather than discourage.
And, what if you are the butt of sarcasm? There’s a couple of things you can do and should not do. You should not react in anger and attempt to get even. It’s almost impossible to get even with a sarcastic person. Remember the sarcastic remark about my new copper colored Ford Granada? I could have reacted and come back with a sarcastic response. “Well, it beats that old piece of junk you are driving!” And, what would that have accomplished in putting him in his place? It certainly wouldn’t change his heart. It wouldn’t cure him of his mean spiritedness. It would only make matters worse between us.
So how do you respond to sarcasm? I might say today, “That’s a mean thing to say.” Or, “That really hurt even if you were just kidding. Was it your intention to hurt me?” Or, I could have ignored his ugly remark. Sarcasm loses its power if ignored.
Remember, you and I are responsible for our feelings. A sarcastic person doesn’t make us feel bad or angry or depressed unless we allow it. If we know our self-worth and know our identity in Christ and if we have established our boundaries knowing where we begin and another person ends, we can walk away intact. Yea, sarcasm hurts, but the problem is with them and not us.
Remember also that negative comments have no power unless we give them power.
And one more thing, sarcastic people are the ones dealing with unresolved emotional pain that expresses itself in sarcastic bullying. Somewhere in their past, they’ve been hurt and bullied by someone significant to them. Yes, the sarcastic person is responsible for his/her words, but real pain underlies their hurtful words. Unfortunately, they express that pain in unhealthy ways by giving pain to another such a spouse, their children, and even their pastor.
So, about all we can do is treat them as we ourselves would like to be treated and spoken to. And, that takes grace received by the One who gives grace to us (John 1:17).