Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; *
he perceives the haughty from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe; *
you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;
your right hand shall save me.
The Lord will make good his purpose for me; *
O Lord, your love endures for ever;
do not abandon the works of your hands. (Psalm 138: 7-9)
During the great 50 Days of Easter we have spent our time in the Gospel of John. John’s Gospel begins with Jesus as the Word who was in the beginning with God and who became flesh. The ancient biographer, Dicaearchus wrote, that John’s story of Jesus is nothing less than the life of the Cosmos. His portrait of Jesus is painted on a cosmic scale.”
But now in this time in our Lectionary we return to the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s Gospel brings us back into the tension of Jesus’ ministry in the world. Mark places us directly in the stream of energy that portrays Jesus’ arrival in the world as an invasion. Jesus and his message represent nothing less that God’s attempt to enter into and reclaim our existence, bringing the reign of God into places where other empires and principalities claim power. In Jesus Christ, nothing less than divine deliverance is at hand. And this divine deliverance is not gentle or comfortable. God’s invasion and Jesus’ vision of a different kingdom, provokes strong opposition from those other reigning powers who never yield their position without struggle. In fact, struggle is a prominent feature of Mark’s Gospel.
So if you are looking for Jesus to be soft and cuddly, if you are looking for Jesus to affirm your sense of order, your spiritual comfort zone, if you are looking for Jesus to make your life decisions less costly, then this Gospel will cause you to put on your helmet and fasten your seat belts.
Last week we celebrated the 10thAnniversary of Gideon’s Garden so we did not reflect on the conflict that begins to break out between Jesus and the religious authorities of his time. The last paragraph of Mark 2 and the first paragraph of Mark 3 offer two stories about Jesus breaking the strict Sabbath rules that Jewish people then and now hold sacred.
As a Jew, Jesus was very familiar with the Sabbath rules, but we have two stories where Jesus first allows his followers to pick grain as they walk through a field on the Sabbath, and then breaks the Sabbath himself by openly healing a person with a withered hand in the temple. Jesus could presumably have healed the man in private without provoking a reaction, but instead he chooses to force the issue. In the glare of media lights, as it were, with hostile officials watching his every word and action, Jesus addresses head on the issue of healing on the Sabbath. And then after “crossing the line in the sand” he turns the scriptures on the religious authorities. Paraphrasing Deuteronomy 30:15 he says, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” Jesus is seeking to make the point that what God seeks from us is compassion not compliance. But with words like that Jesus was certain to provoke. We are then told that “the Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians (or the native Galilean aristocracy) for a way to destroy him.” (3:6)
So it is no surprise that this morning we read that his mother and brothers have come in search of him, because “people were saying that he was out of his mind!” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry preached on this Gospel reading and gave a wonderful series of different translations of this verse. He says, “In the King James Version, which is our church’s gift to the world, it says in very English fashion, “And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.” JB Phillips translation gets a bit closer, when it says, “people were saying that he is mad!” But Bishop Curry believes that the best translation is from the Contemporary English Version that says, “When Jesus’ family heard what he was doing, they thought he was crazyand they went to get him under control.” Curry laughed and said that’s what Dostoyevsky says is exactly what the church has been trying to do for centuries—get Jesus under control.”
But Jesus will not be controlled. His mission will not be muted or softened or turned aside. And Bishop Curry insists that according to the cultural context of the time, Jesus was Crazy, is Crazy!But in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus will not be silenced. Jesus does not pretend to represent the word of God dispassionately or impartially, as if God’s word is a bland, safe bromide to the oppressed and oppressors alike. Mark’s Jesus is committed to God’s work of justice, compassion, and liberation in the world. Jesus is preparing his community to carry on his vocation “after the bridegroom is taken away” and from this point forward he will teach his group of his alternative social practices. Jesus will not be content with easy sacrifice or worship rituals, Jesus requires complete obedience to God. Jesus requires a radical reordering of life. Look at your neighbor and say, “I think she’s talking about you.” Those willing to raise the wrath of Pharaoh, are invited to join Jesus in radical discipleship.
Look at when Mark’s Gospel was believed to have been written. It was either during or just before the time of the Great Revolt, when Jerusalem, the city, the temple, and her people were destroyed after a failed rebellion against the Roman army. Mark is telling the story of Jesus in these violent times. How should followers of Christ respond to the overwhelming force of Roman power in an age when Christ had still not returned? Should the gospel of Jesus Christ compel his followers to take up a revolutionary cause to overthrow a government who relentlessly trampled on the people and was cruelest to those most in need? Or should faithfulness to Christ require his followers to get in line with empire, to keep their religious commitments separate from their obligations to the state?
Mark rejects both of these options–violent revolution or timid compliance with power. Instead he advocates for a different way of discipleship. Mark promotes the way of following Jesus Christ that takes the cross seriously. As Bishop Curry says, “We need some Crazy Christians!” Turn and tell your neighbor, “We need some crazy Christians.”
Now I know that that doesn’t feel too comfortable. Your experience in the church probably has not prepared you to confront people in authority, or break even unjust laws of the land. But when you follow Jesus, you have to be willing to mix it up. You have to be willing to love when it is much easier to hate. You have to be willing to share when it is much preferable to hold tightly on to what you have. You have to be ready to speak when being silent is safer. You have to be willing to stand up when it is much more comfortable to sit down. You have to be willing to stand up for Jesus. You have to be willing to stand up for your neighbor who is in pain. You have to be willing to stand up for compassion over judgement. You have to be willing to stand up to build a relationship when it would be much easier to demonize. You have to be willing to stand up when you refuse to settle for the low ceiling set by the world. You have to stand up because you stand alongside Jesus who has come to make effective room for God’s dream to heal this hurting world.
But the good news is that Crazy Christians are everywhere. Crazy Christians open their homes to children in need. Crazy Christians work in the heat and the mosquitos to grow food for people who are hungry. Crazy Christians write letters, visit their elected leaders, stand and pray on the streets to ask for an end to preventable gun violence, to services for those who suffer from addiction, to end practices that are destroying our earth and its creatures, to provide financial support for families in need, to protect the right to life and liberty for those who daily are faced with violence and injustice, to encourage our leaders and our people to welcome into safety those who flee brutality in their former homes. Everywhere God is calling us to radical discipleship—to being crazy Christians.
Becca Stevens, an author, speaker, Priest, and entrepreneur, started a place called Thistle Farms. In 1997, she welcomed five women who had experienced trafficking and addiction into a loving community. Twenty years later, Thistle Farms, located in Nashville, Tennessee, continues to welcome women with free residences that provide housing, medical care, therapy, and education for two years. Residents and graduates earn income through one of four business, owned and operated by Thistle Farms. When Becca and the people of Thistle Farms learned of the suffering of their sisters who having fled unceasing violence in their home countries, now were trapped in refugee camps, they bought nine looms and transported them to Ritsona, Greece. There they trained women to use the looms to make rugs from overused blankets and the life vests they wore to escape “an unsafe home” over “unknown waters.” Through this project, The Welcome Project, women in refugee camps are finding ways to earn enough money to buy their freedom and the freedom of their children out of refugee camps.
One of the hardest parts of our reading today is Jesus’ reaction to his mother and family (hoi par’ autou “relatives”) who believing him to “have lost his mind,” try to seize him to prevent him from creating further trouble for himself and for his family. We can certainly feel sympathy for their intent to silence Jesus, for surely it was crazy for a marked man to continue to provoke the highest authorities in the land. He was courting disaster and they wanted to protect him.
But Jesus introduces a new model of kinship, based on obedience, not to family or tribe or country, but to God alone. Jesus’s challenge to the traditional authority is now complete. Jesus has instituted a new community—a new family—one that invites all into a family transformed, where they are welcomed as insiders at the core of a new community—one centered on God and God alone.
Mark’s Gospel does not sit us down next to a meek or submissive Jesus. Mark’s Jesus is radical, confronting, and, even perhaps “crazy.” But Jesus was not crucified because he spilled wine on the fair linen. Jesus turns everything upside down, because he knows the only way to realize God’s dream for the world requires radical discipleship following our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus is not going for surface change, he’s going for the deep, the institutional, the systemic –any place that causes people to suffer—anything that denies God’s beloved children justice, compassion, and liberation. Jesus calls us to radical discipleship—radical enough to love like Jesus, radical enough to share like Jesus, radical enough to do justice, to love mercy, to walk humbly with God so that we may be a part of establishing a beloved community on this earth.
We follow a Christ who is called “crazy” because his love defies all borders, all systems that seek to exclude, all barriers that prevent hope, truth, and life. Through God’s grace, may we be crazy enough to follow.
* Grateful for the inspiration of Ched Myers’s book Binding the Strong Man.
Michael Curry. “Bishop Curry General Convention Sermon.” 2012 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abJMKeyCWoQ