The Insanity of the Gospel

They Said Jesus Was Out Of His Mind.

This article comes to us from Taylor Mertins.

And the crowds came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” (Mk 3:20-35)

Jesus began his ministry close to his hometown, proclaiming the Good News of God. He called disciples, cured the sick, and made some pronouncements about the Law, and word started spreading. Fast. So much so that the crowds kept coming together to see, and hear, and experience more of this Jesus, and people couldn’t even eat because there wasn’t enough room.

When Jesus’ family found out, they were less than enthusiastic. They thought he had gone out of his mind. Immediately, the scribes came busting in from Jerusalem taking Jesus to task for all of his actions and words, and Jesus responded to all their accusations with parables:

You think I’m wild? You think I have Beelzebul? How can I cast out demons if I am a demon? Kingdoms divided cannot stand, nor can divided houses. You can go on and on all you want, but let me tell you, sins are being forgiven, and the only thing you have to do is accept it. If you don’t want any part of forgiveness, no worries, you can blaspheme the Spirit all you want.

When Jesus’ mother and brothers came to get him, Jesus delivers the sting: “Who are my mother and my brothers? Whoever does the will of God is my brother and my sister and my mother.”

This brief anecdote toward the beginning of the Gospel, the early stages of Jesus’ ministry, is filled to the brim with both conflict and confusion. It forces us, whether we like it or not, to confront the difficulties involved with following Jesus.

Whenever they heard Jesus preach about the Kingdom of God, whenever he went about from town to town, the authorities didn’t say, “Oh, he’s so sophisticated. Have you ever heard such an articulate son of a carpenter in all your life?”

No. They said he was out of his mind. But Jesus wasn’t out of his mind. He wasn’t a stark raving lune. It’s just that the stuff he said sounds incompatible with reality, whenever we hear him through what the world teaches us to regard as good, right, and proper.

Everywhere he went, Jesus proclaimed and enacted and embodied a very different sort of reality than the one we’ve convinced ourselves we have. Jesus points to a different world that runs completely counter to all of our expectations for life.

That reality is called the Kingdom of God, in which the first are last and the last are first, the weak are strong and the strong are weak, the lowly are lifted up and the mighty are brought down. Jesus is all about reversal. The Psalms talk about it as the hills being made low and the valleys being raised up. And it’s for talk of such things that everyone thought Jesus was out of his mind, his family included.

And perhaps they had a point.

Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd, and I am willing to die for my sheep.” That’s not a plan for a strong business model; it’s a recipe for disaster. Jesus says, “I am the fatted calf slaughtered for the celebration of the prodigal’s forgiveness.” That doesn’t sound like a program for do-goodery; it’s an undeserved celebration. Jesus says, “I am the bread of life, and whosoever eats of me will never be hungry.” Um, Jesus, cannibalism is inadvisable, and even if it’s spiritual, you can’t just give yourself away for free.

Consider this Jesus: He had no seminary education. He never published a book. He lived with his parents until he was thirty years old. He never held a steady job, never owned a home, never saved away for retirement. He was known for going to a lot of parties with twelve unattached men and was regularly accused of disturbing the peace.

No wonder everyone thought he was out of his mind.

And it doesn’t stop there! Jesus also taught that you can only grow up by turning and becoming like a child. You can only win by losing. You can only receive by giving. You can only live by dying.

Um, thanks, Jesus, but have you got anything else to offer us?

Blessed are you who are poor. Blessed are you who are hungry. Blessed are in order for those at the very bottom of life.

And this is the Lord to whom we pledge our allegiance!

His family tried to restrain him, and the religious elites called him into question. Eventually, his disciples abandoned him. And, in the end, we killed him for it.

The crowds were fine with most of what Jesus said and did. Who wouldn’t want to see the hungry filled with good food, or the naked clothed with the finest wares? Who wouldn’t want to see the sick healed and the outcast welcomed back? But when Jesus started to push into the territory we call the Kingdom of God, people got all sorts of upset.

It’s one thing to talk about raising the lowly, but it’s another thing entirely to talk about bringing down the mighty. It’s one thing to talk about the inauguration of a new reality, but it’s another thing entirely when you start publicly entrusting that kingdom to a bunch of fishermen and tax collectors. It’s one thing to talk about the virtues of forgiveness, but it’s another thing entirely when you’re actually asked to forgive the very people who have wronged you.

But “out-of-mindedness” is rather contagious. At least, it has been in the realm of the church. Get one taste of that body and blood, receive a foretaste of the grace that knows no end, and you can’t really ever go back.

If you think about it, one of the great joys of the Christian faith is that it’s actually quite fun to have our minds messed up by Jesus. We have the great fortune of being freed from the expectations of reality in order to live into a kingdom in which we are no longer defined by what we failed to do and instead are defined by what has been done for us.

The church really is a new understanding of the way things can be.

That those who do the will of God are the family of Jesus is great Good News. The waters of baptism are thicker than blood. It implies a desire to weep with those who weep and to rejoice with those who rejoice. It means that no matter what you’ve done or left undone, the church is a community of people who will always be there for you. Could there be any better news than that?

We often say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. And for us humans, that’s probably true. How many of us have endeavored to initiate a diet only to sneak that extra piece of cake when no one was looking? How many of us have set out to live by a strict budget only to go further into debt? Or made promises to make the world a better place only to wake up to a world that is seemingly worse than it was the day before?

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting something to change might be definitionally living outside of our minds. But God, unlike us, delights in impossible possibilities. The insanity of the Gospel is that God actually changes us. We are not what we once were because God will not let us stay that way. God, through bread and wine, through water and Spirit, is making all things new.

Jesus responds to the accusations and the attacks from the crowds, from the religious elites, and even his family by saying that whoever does the will of God is his family. The will of God, the claim that incorporates and institutes the church, is a reign of forgiveness.

Of all the things that make Christianity weird, antiquarian, or even passé, forgiveness might be the craziest thing of all.

Forgiveness is insanity to those who believe in an eye for an eye amid a world of blindness. Or to those who insist we should, and must, view one another through our mistakes, failures, and shortcomings. Forgiveness is an entirely different reality constituted by the life and death of the Lord. For, though we deserve it not one bit, God delights in forgiving us.

T. S. Eliot once wrote, “In a world of fugitives, the person taking the opposite direction will appear to run away.” What looks like insanity to everyone else, appears as freedom to God. He ran against the grain — past the crowds, his disciples, and his own family — straight to the hard wood of the cross, where each and every one of our sins was nailed, and he left them there forever.