“How Crazy Was He?”
1 Samuel 16: 14-23
August 28, 2016
Chilmark Community Church
Rev. Vicky Hanjian
Not long after Armen and I moved here from NJ, a young friend and colleague in ministry came to visit the island for the first time. He and his wife were members of the New Jersey Korean congregation with whom my Anglo congregation shared their building and facilities. KunSam was describing his experience of taking his youth group to Henderson Settlement in Kentucky for a work camp at the United Methodist mission site there. Being Korean, he was both delighted and mystified by the colorful language and euphemisms in the rural Kentucky mountain speech patterns. He laughed uproariously as he described how the high school kids at the settlement were talking very solemnly about a neighbor who had almost “bought the farm” when he made a sharp turn on his tractor and the machine tipped over, pinning him beneath.
KunSam, on hearing the phrase “he almost bought the farm” wondered why people were so serious. Wouldn’t buying a farm be a reason to celebrate? He laughed even harder as he told us about the amusement of the Kentucky kids at his expense. He didn’t know that to say “He almost bought the farm” was a way of saying the man almost died. Then he began asking us about other euphemisms in the English language that he had heard and not quite understood. “What does it mean when you say ‘the lights are on but nobody is home?’” And that question evoked a string of colloquialisms – – about being “one brick short of a load” – – or “being half a bubble off plumb” – – or “not being wrapped too tight” – – “or “having a screw loose somewhere.” KunSam was delighted with the colorful ways Americans have of describing peculiar or unstable mental and emotional behavior.
In our gospel story this morning, a crowd has gathered. Once again, there was such a crush of people trying to get close to the place where Jesus was staying that there was neither space nor time for him and Peter and James and John to get a bite to eat. This seems to be a popular way for the gospel writers to get the point across that Jesus was often overwhelmed and besieged with the needs of the people who sought him out.
I wonder if the folks around Jesus had their own language challenges – -trying to describe Jesus’ behavior. The rumors were flying. “He’s gone mad!” “He is beside himself!” “He has gone out of his mind!”
Some folks had come down from Jerusalem to where Jesus was staying. They had even stronger language for what they observed in Jesus: “He has Beelzebul!” “By the ruler of demons he casts out demons!” In the minds of Jesus adversaries, he was not only crazy – – he was possessed by demons – – and furthermore, he used his demonic powers to exorcise demons from other people.
Well – – – how crazy was he?? What had led to the rumors and accusations that are being hurled at Jesus in this story? We can never accurately understand a particular verse or story if it is taken out of its context. So we have to go backwards in Mark’s story – just a bit.
Near the beginning of Mark’s first chapter, Jesus emerges out of Nazereth, a small town, perhaps 50 – 60 miles north of Jerusalem. One of his first acts is to align himself with his cousin, John the Baptizer – – a strange, powerful and charismatic preacher. Jesus receives John’s baptism and then disappears into the barren Judean wilderness for more than a month – – 40 days as the story goes. In the wild places, he confronts the satan – the adversary – he is ministered to by wild beasts and attended by angels.
Back in civilization, he heads for Galilee, his home territory, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God is near. Almost immediately, he calls 12 people to follow him. He is charismatic enough himself that they leave their livelihoods and their families to go – – apparently without question.
Before we even get to the end of Chapter 1 in Mark, Jesus is already teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, healing his friend’s sick mother-in-law. He touches a person with leprosy and heals him. He heals another person with a paralyzing condition – – he forgives sins – – He eats with tax collectors and prostitutes. He defends his companions when they pick grain on the Sabbath. He angers some of his fellow religious Jews. All this by the end of Chapter 2. By the end of Chapter 3 Jesus is engaged in discussions about the meaning of the Sabbath and is exercising his authority over demons.
And then, all of a sudden he is in small house so crowded with people who want to hear him and touch him and be touched by him that he doesn’t have time even for a coffee break. HIs family is afraid that the rumors of madness are true and they come to try to take him home with them. “Maybe he really is crazy. Let’s get him out of here before he hurts someone – -or before someone hurts him – – or before he hurts himself.”
The story gives us characters that are divided into two main groups – those who are inside the house and those who are outside. We might ask ourselves where we would be – – insiders or outsiders?
Would we be among Jesus’ relatives, his mother and brothers and sisters? The people who had watched him grow up – had witnessed him leave his carpentry shop and disappear for hours and days at a time? Would we be among those who worried about him when he didn’t come home from his trip to the south where the baptizer was doing his thing? – – Maybe. If I were his mother, I would be worried, wondering what had happened to my normal, responsible eldest son. Maybe I’d want to take him home, feed him some chicken soup, and get him back on track.
Maybe we would be among Jesus’ adversaries with whom he argued about the nature of the Sabbath – or about who has the power to forgive sins – or who think he might be possessed by demons – – one brick short of a load!
We might well be standing outside the house. I think, at times, we might entertain notions about Jesus, about what he expects of us – – the demands he makes of us. After all – where does he get the nerve?? Telling me to love my neighbor – I don’t even like my neighbor! Return good to someone who has done evil to you? The man’s gone round the bend! Forgive 70 times 7?? That doesn’t make sense. It’s not even practical. The man’s got a screw missing somewhere!
The curious thing about being in the crowd outside the house is that we are always right! What Jesus asks of us doesn’t make sense. What he proposes for life is simply not rational.
But, we might also place ourselves inside the house in the crush of the people who have crowded in to be near him. On the inside doesn’t much matter to us whether what Jesus asks makes sense. He pays attention to us. He listens to our pain. He heals our brokenness with his touch. He doesn’t cringe or turn away because we are scarred, or wounded, or sick, or old, or arthritic, or cantankerous. To us, Jesus is not crazy. He is love. He offers a spacious hospitality to each one of us. When we sit in his presence we feel his interest, his warmth, his laughter. We feel our own warmth returning. We feel more whole. Our scars begin to soften. Our spirits start to hum, maybe even sing. If Jesus is out of his mind – – perhaps that is where we want to be. Maybe this is how we feel, sitting in the crush inside the house.
There is one more group in the story that doesn’t get much press in this scenario – – but we might be in this small inner circle that watches Jesus intently – the group that Jesus called to be his companions, to be with him on his way. We might be sitting there in awe. He has invited us to go with him – – he has told us we will do even greater works than he is doing. He has invited us to leave the old ways behind – no more tedious mending of nets; no more watching the sky and the water for just the right weather for fishing. But on the other hand, we don’t always know what to expect. We’re not always sure what to do when we see someone suffering. We aren’t all that good at healing people the way he does. Sometime we aren’t really sure of the whole enterprise. But, there is that charismatic attraction – – and we draw closer and let his love permeate us. We become his disciples.
On any given day, we might be a part of all three groups. That is the nature of being human. One moment we are feeling very righteous and clear about our lives and our choices and decision making – and the next we are sitting at the feet of Jesus needing healing of the demons that haunt us. We go so easily from knowing peace and harmony and joy in our lives to feeling stressed, suspicious and alienated and so on. The days when we feel up to the challenge of keeping close company with Jesus are sometimes few and far between. How can we be the ones to exorcise demons and evil spirits when we are so broken ourselves. How can we be the ones who help bring in the Kingdom of God when we have trouble even glimpsing the vision in a world that is so tormented and angry and frightened and tired?
Indeed, the crowd – – the outsiders and insiders – – and the inner circle – -is us. And no matter where we stand at any given moment, we are called to make a judgment about the craziness of Jesus. But his invitation to us is always clear.
Those who would become as family to Jesus are those who attempt to discern and follow the will of God. The mothers and brothers and sisters of Jesus will carry a family tendency toward a Christ-like craziness. They will behave in ways that defy conventional wisdom about the way things should be done. They will be loving when resentment might seem more reasonable. They will welcome the stranger into their midst when fear and suspicion might be more natural. They will offer tears of healing when a stiff upper lip might be more socially acceptable.
You see – – it is the madness of Jesus that encourages the world to give up its weapons. It is a crazy Jesus who invites us to consider peace instead of war. It is a Jesus “gone round the bend” who invites us to counter aggression with lovingkindness. It is a Jesus “not wrapped to tight” who teaches us to return good for evil. It is a Jesus “one brick short of a load” who prays on the cross “Father, forgive them – they don’t know what they are doing.”
Yesterday, we attended a memorial lunch for a friend who died suddenly last spring while he was traveling in Southeast Asia. We were all shocked beyond belief when we heard the news of his death. He was a much loved human being. His death left a huge hole in the fabric of the community he left behind. In an articulate testimony to Andrew’s goodness, one man told the story of Andrew’s comments after one of the more atrocious terrorist attacks in Europe that had occurred barely two weeks before his intended departure for Southeast Asia. We were all concerned for him, traveling alone in an often dangerous part of the world. But – Andrew was crazy. He often housed strangers who had no place to sleep at night. He brought people home and fed them when they looked hungry. He helped young people find jobs. He trusted human beings. Andrew told us that he had faith that wherever he went he would meet kind and compassionate people. He would have shelter and that strangers would care for him and insure his safety. He loved people and even the most unlikely strangers loved him back. He died in Bangkok surrounded by strangers who cared for him as one of their own. We could see in Andrew the kind of fearless joy and love and generosity and hospitality that Jesus showed to all the circles of people around him. Crazy.
Jesus invites us, every one, into the inner circle of discipleship where we become his kin because we decide to embrace and live out his craziness in a world that doesn’t understand. The God of our ancestors has never been a rational god. Why would the Son of God be any different? The non-rational journey of discipleship is one of learning to love without reservation, to exercise compassion, to offer reconciliation and the possibility of healing wherever we find ourselves. We don’t come perfectly equipped for the job – but Jesus calls us anyway. How crazy was he? – – – – – How crazy are we????