Oh, Jesus…… Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
You’re doing it again. You are pushing the envelope. You are undermining yourself. You are alienating those who care about you.
Why, Jesus? Why do you insist on being with these people? How do you expect anyone to take you seriously when you keep antagonizing everyone—especially the religious authorities? How can we help you when you keep distancing yourself from everyone—the crowd, the religious leaders, and even your family?
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…
This text from Mark is one of those texts that most of us would rather avoid.
Jesus and his family experience a flash-mob of attention that is so intense they cannot even sit down to eat. This may, in fact, be the first instance of the paparazzi going overboard. His family—concerned for his well-being—try their best to get him out of there. They go so far as to claim Jesus is insane—”He has gone out of his mind” (3:21).
A part of me wonders if they might actually believe it. I mean, they’ve been with him through much of this peculiar journey so far. We ourselves know that the strangest is yet to come, and we know (as well) how the story ends…
If we are honest with ourselves and with Jesus’ family and immediate followers, we have to admit that something frequently seems off-kilter with Jesus. He just doesn’t seem to think or feel the way we expect. He doesn’t seem to understand enough of how the world works to live in it without harming himself. And, on some level, the Gospel accounts of Jesus suggest that his crucifixion was the inevitable consequence of his increasingly intense conflicts and rhetoric with the “establishment.”
His family’s plea of insanity—whether or not they have begun to believe it—is a desperate attempt to save Jesus’ life. That very claim, however, ends up being lifted against him by the Pharisee elite, who claim that Jesus truly is “out of his mind”—he is possessed by the devil, Beelzebul, the Lord of the Flies.
Jesus, like some presidential hopefuls of the last couple elections, simply cannot keep his mouth shut and let their wild accusations run their course. He has to weigh in himself in verse 23:
“How can Satan cast out Satan?
If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.
And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come.
But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.”
OK. So Jesus makes his point: their accusations that he is possessed don’t make logical sense. But Jesus makes this point five times: first about Satan, then using the example of a kingdom, then using the example of a house, then back to Satan, and finally using the parable of a strong man being burgled.
Come on, Jesus, obsess much? This much repetition is actually strengthening your family’s claim that you have lost your marbles.
And, of course, Jesus doesn’t stop there. He goes on in verse 28:
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”
What? What does that have to do with anything? And you’re sounding more than a little intense again, Jesus. Need to dial it back a bit…maybe take a Prozac……
And of course, at this point, things go from bad to worse as Jesus reaches new levels of obscurity and self-alienation. Mary and Jesus’ brothers start calling to him over the raucous, trying to convince him to simply come inside the house. Some in the crowd pass along the message into Jesus’ hearing, telling him that his mothers and brothers are asking for him.
Jesus, in response, disavows his biological family, stating instead that this crowd of strangers is his family, as is anyone who does God’s will.
Come on, Jesus. This is crazy.
Crazy is right. One definition of insane is “to be in a state of mind that prevents normal perception, behavior, or social interaction.” And we have to admit that Jesus doesn’t perceive things normally, he doesn’t act normally, and he certainly does not interact socially in a normal way. His “state of mind” seems the opposite of normal.
Worldly wisdom says things like: Protect yourself at all costs. But yet Jesus instructs his followers to knowingly walk into danger.
- Jesus tells his disciples “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves… Beware…for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me” (Matt 10:16-18).
Our culture tells us to grab all the success and notoriety possible. But Jesus says to turn your back on worldly success and acclaim.
- He tells a rich man: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Matt 19:21).
- He also says “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matt 19:24).
The world says: You are number one. Put yourself first. Jesus says to deny your own needs and desires.
- To his disciples, Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matt 16:24).
- He also said, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt 6:25)
The world says: Do what’s best for you. If you don’t take care of yourself no one else will. But Jesus says: Lay down your life.
- “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matt 16:25).
(Thanks to http://www.newhopedigital.com/index.php/2011/08/embrace-the-crazy-wisdom-of-god for assistance in the above section)
Jesus is the one who does crazy things, like overturning tables and assaulting people with a whip in the Temple (Matt 21:12-13); like waiting to visit his sick, best friend Lazarus until he has been dead for four days (John 11:1-11); like quickly returning to a town where he was almost killed (John 10:31-39; 11:16).
Jesus is the one who teaches crazy things, too, like “the last will be first and the first will be last” (Matt 20:16); like instructing people to love their enemies (Matt 5:44); like telling an old man he must be born again (John 3:3); like claiming the way to life is the cross (Matt 10:39; Luke 14:27; John 3:16).
Years before the movie “The Matrix” came out, a theologian argued that the dramatic reversal of the End of Days is really an unveiling of the way things are; that we have been deceived—blinded—from seeing the truth; and that the End of Days will be that moment in history when our blinders are pulled off, and we can see things as they truly are. The moment when we take the red pill and find our way out of the devil’s Matrix, the Matrix in which we have been trapped ever since that “fruit of the knowledge of good and evil” incident back in Genesis.
This means, for instance, that when Isaiah predicts “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain” (Isa 40:4), those changes have already happened, but we are blind to see them. Though they already exist around us, we do not recognize them as reality.
This also means that when Jesus talks about the first being last or the meek inheriting the earth, strength in weakness or wealth in poverty, he is talking about the real reality, not the Matrix-like deception we know so well. These conditions and their underlying rules are still in play, we just don’t know to tap into them.
Is Jesus crazy? Maybe, if “crazy” means he lives according to a reality different than us.
But I’m also reminded of the humorous expression: “It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you.” If Jesus is the one seeing things straight, he’s not the crazy one; we are.
When Jesus talks about the Kingdom of God, he’s not talking about some far-off time and place of the fulfillment of divine initiative. He is talking about the here and now. The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, is here…and not yet.
It is here, because it is the real reality. It is not yet, because we still fail to recognize everything as it truly is.
This is probably the most amazing insight God has ever blessed me with in my entire journey with God: the “rules” of the Kingdom of God are the actual rules that undergird everything, even though they go against the popular wisdom of our world.
When Jesus says the last is first and the first is last, he is describing things as they are. Weakness really is strength. Love really does conquer all. Death really does bring life.
A part of the world looks at Christians as though we are crazy. They point out those who look different, who act different, who appears as fools to the wisdom of the world. Some of them, I sheepishly admit, look crazy to me as well.
But I have been redeemed by a crazy Savior, who challenges me to be crazy too, to live in the Kingdom of God even though it has not been fully revealed, to believe and prove things like:
- People matter more than ideals.
- A relationship is more valuable than the pain anyone causes me.
- Doing what I love is more valuable than money.
- The best thing I can do as a parent is have fun like a kid.
- Presence is more powerful than any words you might say.
- Success is overrated; genuine ministry happens when love is shown even though the hoped-for changes will never come about.
- Mono-tasking is always better than multi-tasking.
- Less is more; simple beats complicated.
- God is real, and cares for us.
In the Kingdom of God, God is the judge of others, so I don’t have to be the judge of anyone. God loves me and provides for my needs, so I need not be anxious for anything. In the Kingdom of God, the worst thing I can do is trust myself.
It is an aspiration, of course. The pull of the Matrix in which we live is strong. It is hard to go on believing in what no one else can see, struggling to keep focused on living like a crazy Christian.
But from time to time, usually during moments of great vulnerability and selflessness, God pulls back the curtain just a little bit. I take a risk, make a choice as though God’s Kingdom were already here, and it plays out just the way God said it would:
- I have invested in a hopeless situation, and something positive developed.
- I have maintained an openness to reconciliation with someone who has severely wronged me, and somehow that relationship was restored.
- I have experienced great wealth in poverty.
- I have found great fullness in simplicity.
- I have discovered God in places the world said a god would never go.
The Kingdom is here. It’s crazy talk, I know, but it’s true.
And as Jesus says in John 8:31-32, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Feel free to be a little crazy. It’s part of our job description, after all.