One of the classic gags in comedy is the slippery banana peel. A person, usually carrying a lot of stuff, is walking straight for a discarded banana peel. Stepping on the peel, the person slips and falls and whatever he or she was carrying goes flying. And the audience is left in fits of laughter.
This gag is so well known that audiences today start laughing well before the victim steps on the peel. The phenomenon of “American Funniest Videos” and similar types of shows is related directly to the appeal of the banana peel gag.
Once, I was walking on a beach at dusk with my sister. I was headed straight for a hole someone had dug in the sand during the day. My sister could see what was about to happen, but she was laughing too hard to be able to warn me. I muttered to her that I still love her as she helped me and my dignity out of the hole.
In our Gospel lesson (Luke 18:9-14) Jesus warns the Pharisee, who expresses thanks that he’s not like the others (thieves, rogues, adulterers, or a tax collector), that he’s about to slip on a banana. No doubt it is good that he’s not a thief or a rogue but neither does it help him to think too highly of himself.
That’s really the appeal of the banana gag: not only is it someone who’s unaware, it is often someone who is arrogant – perhaps like the Pharisee. Jesus however, is able to place himself in the place of every-human, and desires not for the slip and fall but for saving all of us.
I like a good laugh, but I prefer salvation. So, I pray, God, be merciful to me before I slip on a banana peel. Amen.