The world dropped its mouth wide open

If you didn’t see it, you heard about it.

Last Sunday, at the 94th Academy Awards ceremony, comedian Chris Rock joked on stage about Jada Pinkett Smith, calling her G.I. Jane 2. Smith shaves her head due to alopecia, an autoimmune disorder that causes hair loss.

The audience laughed.

Smith’s husband, Will Smith, joined in, apparently not realizing that the joke was about his wife’s disability. Once the actor put it together, he jumped to his feet. Will Smith then strutted his six-foot two-inch frame to the stage. He slapped the comedian across the face as the world dropped its mouth wide open.

Oh, everyone had an opinion.

Social media immediately responded, wondering if the actor would be charged. That question was answered in short order—Chris Rock refused to press charges.

The Academy expressed its disdain and Smith apologized. What do you think?

Did the actor have a right to defend his wife? Or was it simply a joke, a roasting, to be taken in stride?

There’s actually a person in the Bible who was also mocked for being bald. That story delivers a powerful message. Was it about:

  1. The prophet Elisha?
  2. Saul, the first king of Israel?
  3. Moses’ brother, Aaron?
  4. Jesus’ beloved disciple, John?

Look over your choices. I will give you a hint—the man was a newbie, fresh to his position.

Okay, lock in your answer.

You may recall that Israel had a famous prophet, Elijah, who performed amazing miracles. One day he was out with his protégé and they came to the Jordan River. Elijah struck the water with his cloak, parted it, and the two walked across on dry land.

The next thing you know, Elijah was taken to heaven in a fiery chariot. (2 Kings 2:11-12)

The protégé then returned to the river, parting it with that same cloak. It was his first big to-do. He went from the Jordan River to Jericho, and his next miracle was healing the city’s spring, giving the people clean water.

The newly appointed man then headed up to Bethel, a worship center. And that was when it happened. He was met by over 42 boys who ridiculed him for being bald. Yes, the same reason Chris Rock belittled Jada Pinkett Smith on Sunday. Here’s the passage:

“He went up from there to Bethel … and some small boys came out of the city and jeered at him, saying, ‘Go up you baldhead! Go up you baldhead.’”

It’s likely they didn’t know who he was.

“And (Elisha) turned around and … cursed them … and two she-bears came out of the woods and tore forty-two of the boys.”

The answer is No. 1. It’s Elisha, who was old Elijah’s protégé.

The passage doesn’t say “all of the boys” took a swiping from the bears. So, apparently there were more than 42—quite a crowd making fun of Elisha.

And God wasn’t having it.

The boys weren’t killed—there were only two bears. It’s more an image of bad children learning a lesson, sent on their way, whimpering.

On Sunday night, Will Smith did the same, swiping at Chris Rock’s unacceptable behavior. The comedian needed to hear the message. Those who laughed needed to hear it, too. In fact, that evening was a teachable moment for the world. Here’s the lesson:

Making fun of someone for their appearance or for a disability is bullying. It isn’t funny. Bullying deserves zero tolerance.

The government has a website: StopBullying.gov. It says, “When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior, they send the message that it is not acceptable.”

When I was in school, I would eye teachers who watched as bullies wreaked havoc on others. I wondered if those teachers had been childhood bullies.

I like Blake Shelton, although I know almost nothing about his music. I admire him because of how he deals with bullying on “The Voice.” Shelton casts a cold eye on contestants who belittle others.

Jokes and funny comments can build self-esteem. So, why do we encourage humor that’s negative?

Scripture takes a hard line on this: “Drive out the mocker…” (Proverbs 22:10)

The Apostle Paul said, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29)

Yes, last Sunday the world dropped its mouth open. I hope the moment is remembered.

Bullying destroys. Bullying deserves zero tolerance.

The Rev. Mathews (BA, MDiv, JD) is a faith columnist, seminary graduate, and the author of “Reaching to God.” Contact her at Hello@RAMathews.com.

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