“Off the Deep End of Faith”
Over the years I’ve hear many arguments for the “reasonableness” of faith. The arguments go something like this: God loves us. God protects us. God has made a universe that works like a finely-tuned clock. God rewards those who are good, and punishes the bad. God keeps order, both in society and in the universe. So it is “reasonable” to be a Christian, to believe and trust in God. Or so the argument goes.
If that is true, then why did the religious of his day, and even Jesus’ family, think he’d gone off the deep end – that he was crazy, or demon-possessed? Our text says that his family tried to restrain him. The scribes – the educated elite from Jerusalem – said he was nuts, and a minion of Satan himself!
In Jesus’ day, the world was ruled by Rome. The Romans lived in a culture where everyone depended upon the person above them, in a rigidly hierarchal patronage system. If you feel out of favor with your patron, you were out of the system, and would normally starve to death. In that kind of system, strength was valued, care for the weak or outsiders was seen as vice – not a virtue. To care for those who were outside the patronage system undermined the system, and was regarded as treason.
In Palestine, in Jesus’ day, Jewish thought moderated this system. The law called for care of widows, orphans, and even strangers. They were to do justice – which meant that their courts were supposed to serve as a balance against the rich and powerful. But it was still a system of insiders and outsiders. Roman thought infected the upper classes, especially the Sadducees, the temple class. The Pharisees were concerned about separation – law-keepers from the irreligious, Gentiles from Jews, clean from unclean. Zealots wanted a pure Jewish nation, uninfected by Roman or Greek rule or influence, and were often willing to kill to make their case.
It was into this world that Jesus came. Against the Romans, he proclaimed God’s care for the least. Those who followed him set up a kind of alternative society, rescuing those who fell through the cracks of the Roman world. The titles we ascribe to Jesus, “Lord,” “Savior of the Nations,” and so on, in fact, were titles associated with Caesar. Worshipping Jesus and following his way were the alternative to worshipping Caesar, and so it is no wonder that Christians were jailed and killed as traitors to the empire.
Against the Pharisees and Zealots, Jesus proclaimed a God whose very nature is inclusive and graceful. He ministered to people hated by the Jews – Romans and Samaritans – even going so far as to lift them up as models of faith! He interrupted the healing of the daughter of a well-respected member of the Jewish community, to heal an “untouchable,” a poor woman with an issue of blood. One of his closest followers, Mary of Magdala, had been demon-possessed; Jesus sought out these people, along with a host of others that made people cringe – prostitutes, tax collectors, people with leprosy, crazy people - all society’s rejects – to proclaim God’s mercy and love for them.
Is it any wonder they thought he was crazy?
So how does this text speak to us today?
Of course, one of the most immediate places where it speaks to us, is to ask us where we should be, as followers of Jesus? Shouldn’t we be where Jesus is? Some of these same philosophies are also rampant in our culture – and even in parts of the church. Many believe that care for the least in our society and in our world is vice, not virtue. That is the philosophy of Ayn Rand that has enjoyed a resurgence. There are many who do not believe that we should be our brother’s keeper. There are many who feel that we should only take care of our own, that charity begins and ends at home. Many others feel it is their business to separate the sheep from the goats, to protect society, and see the role of religion in society as enforcing morals – but none of those things seemed important to Jesus. He was more concerned that people knew they had a heavenly Father who loved and cared for them, and who welcomed them into his kingdom – whoever they were. His was a Father who cared not at all about class, or nationality, or gender, or any of those other things we use to separate ourselves. So the first question is, “Where would Jesus be today, and what would he be doing?” And “Shouldn’t we be with him?”
The other place where this text especially speaks to us, is simply this matter of the Gospel. I’m going to go back to our Old Testament text for a moment, here. Genesis 3 is generally referred to as “The Fall.” It’s about how Adam and Eve sinned and fell from grace. Except that isn’t really what it is about. It’s really descriptive of the human situation. Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil – that’s where we are. We have all eaten from that tree – we know what is good and what is evil. We can’t go back. Our eyes are open. That’s where the story begins, of God’s grace. Knowing good and evil, we can choose – sometimes we choose good, and sometimes evil. Sometimes, when we think we are choosing good, evil still happens. But we see the difference; we know the difference. So Eden, the place of innocence, is forever lost to us. That is what it means to be human. That’s where our story begins.
But this is also where the Gospel starts. Not in innocence, but in a broken world – a world where we both sin, and are victims as well of sin; where we do good and evil, and where we are often victimized by evil not of our own doing. The man and woman respond to this by scapegoating: “It was her fault – she gave it to me!” “It was the snake’s fault – it tempted me!” “It was your fault, God – you gave us these flawed creatures! You created them!” We continue to point fingers, to make accusations, to divide, to limit our liability.
To this, God responds with the Gospel. Yes, they must leave Eden. But God will not leave them. He will even die for them. He will overcome their finger-pointing and their divisions by redeeming them and creating a new community of grace. To sin against the Holy Spirit is not to do something wrong – it is simply failure to receive grace – to refuse to believe in his mercy and love. It is to keep pointing fingers, rather than accept forgiveness. “These,” Jesus says, “are my brothers and sisters: all who believe, all who are grasped by the grace and love of God.”
Yes, Jesus is a bit crazy. It is the craziness of God that Jesus has – the kind of craziness that cares little about who belongs where, or to who, or about what they can do for us, or how pure they are, or whether they have the right ideology or pedigree – that kind of craziness that begins by recognizing the face of Jesus in the other, and welcomes them as a member of our own family, loved by God and us.
Is that crazy, or what?