It’s pretty clear that Jesus has come proclaiming and enacting a reality that is very different from that which the world embraces, of assumptions and expectations that doesn’t mesh with the way we think the world works – as much today as back in Jesus’s time. That’s true whether we’re talking about our own timeframe or the time into which Jesus was born. It’s a reality counter to the world’s expectations, a reality named “Kingdom of God. That reality is a place--a system of values, a set of assumptions and expectations that doesn’t mesh with the way we think the world works – as much today as back in Jesus’s time.
Back then Jesus was loudly dismissed as “out of his mind.” But he’s not really out of his mind. He’s just in a different frame of reference, another consciousness, a consciousness that puts him beside himself. So – what does that mean for us? Should today’s Christians deny what Jesus was like? Is it OK for us to be seen as off kilter the way Jesus was seen? Or should we think and act differently from Jesus so that we don’t get labeled as weird?
I’ve had encounters with people who, at first impression, seemed to me off kilter, weird, out of their minds. Once, on an evening not exactly dark and stormy, but certainly chilly and drizzly, I was working a concession stand at a football game. A gentleman approached my window, and, as I usually did with a customer, I made eye contact with him. He beamed at me as if he knew me from somewhere, and he greeted me – loudly – in Spanish. He was obviously not a native speaker. He loudly asked how I was, said loudly that he needed something to eat. And in English he asked me, loudly, if I knew what he had just said.
I answered him (not so loudly) in Spanish, and he ordered a couple of things, in English, paid for them and then stepped aside to make room for other customers.
He was a tall man, rather thin, with plenty of longish white hair. He wore jeans, clean ones, and a long-sleeved white shirt. Very white. Either brand new or else bleached, possibly starched, and ironed. Over that a grey coat, like a trench coat, neither buttoned nor belted. Appropriate for the weather. And – he was barefoot. Yet his feet looked as clean as if he had just gotten out of a bath. Bizarre. Certainly out of the ordinary. Out of his mind? Maybe. But our encounter was so brief that I can’t say for certain.
Once I read the obituary of a man named John Fairfax, a man with kind of a weird, “out of his mind” obsession. According to The Week magazine, he rowed across both the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. A person certainly out of the ordinary. Out of his mind? Maybe.
Somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, while not only maybe out of his mind, but certainly out of his boat, he was scraping barnacles from the bottom of the rowboat with his knife when he spotted a giant mako shark charging him from below. He pressed himself against the hull and slashed the beasts belly with the knife. “I think I saw entrails hanging out as he swam away,’’ Fairfax said.
When he landed in Florida, having become the first person to row solo across the Atlantic, a reporter from the Miami Herald questioned his shark-slaying skills. Fairfax was beside himself with anger. He went out in a boat and poured fish blood into the water to attract a shark. It worked. The blood attracted a big one. He killed it and dumped it in front of the door of the newspaper’s office.
Where do you think and act? Inside the box or beside the box or so far from the box that you can hardly see it, and frankly, you don’t care if you can see it or not.
How do you think and act? Are you a rational, sequential sort of person? Do you jump outside the patterns, doing things in your own, sometimes quirky way? Are you a follower or an innovator? Not that any of these options are mutually exclusive. Neither are they the only possibilities. But often we are labeled with some particular personality type. (My siblings without hesitation would label me as stubborn. . . .)
Jesus was labeled. Just ask his high school teachers. To Joseph and Mary his teacher never said, “Your son has a wonderfully rational mind. His geometry proofs are clear and logical. His essays tell us that he is a find thinker.” No, his report cards said things like “Jesus doesn’t think like the rest of my students do. Nor does he approach his studies as students should.” And as his ministry progressed, no one ever said, “That was a splendidly rational lecture you gave. What a fine mind you have, Jesus.” If you search the New Testament you will find no instances of praise for Jesus’s mind being rational and logical. No one ever said, “He has one of the best minds in all of Galilee.”
What they did say was, “He’s crazy! He’s stark raving mad!” Just ask Mark. Chapter 3. His family wanted to restrain him because people were saying, “He has gone out of his mind.” Others said “By the power of the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.” Not necessarily something we want to hear said about our loved ones.
Here Jesus is, back home, and his family wants to be proud of the young rabbi that they have produced. Instead they‘re hugely embarrassed because the people who hear Jesus teach and watch him work say repeatedly “He’s out of his mind! He’s beside himself!
The NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) says that Jesus has “gone out of his mind.” Eugene Peterson, in The Message says that Jesus’s friends suspect the he was “getting carried away with himself. The King James and the RSV say “He is beside himself.” That’s an odd phrase, isn’t it? But the idea was that the mind, or your soul, could separate from the body, and when that happened, your soul or mind could literally be beside your body because your body is here, and your sense, your mind, your soul, is over there. You’re nuts! Beside yourself. Maybe even stark raving mad.
By the way, there is much the same reaction to Jesus in the Gospel of John (Chapter 10) when Jesus says that he is so good a shepherd that he is willing to die for his sheep. At that year’s high school class reunion his classmates would have said, “Die for a bunch of stupid sheep? He’s out of his ever-lovin’ mind! That’s crazy!
It is true that Jesus didn’t have the benefit of a seminary education. Nor a college education. And my comments about his high school are, of course, fictional. He published nothing. As far as we know, he lived with his parents until he was about 30. He never held a job that we know of, never owned a home, and he went around to lots of parties with a gang of seemingly unattached men. But none of that makes Jesus a raving lunatic.
So we ask Jesus to reassure us, to tell us something rational, to give us something solid to hang on to. And Jesus says, “All right, try this. You grow up by turning and becoming as a little child. You cannot get into the kingdom of God unless you revert and become as a child.
Want to win? You do so by losing. You get by giving. You live by dying.
Really, Jesus? That doesn’t sound rational to us. Come on, say something thoughtful, something practical that we can use in our daily lives.
OK, try this: Blessed are the poor. Happy are the hungry. How fortunate are the widowed or the unemployed or those who are spiritually poor
Yeah, right. Blessed? Fortunate? Happy? Are you crazy? Jesus’s world looked at hungry, poor, widowed, unemployed and spiritually poor people as failures, as diseased – with something that might even be catching. He didn’t make sense then; it really doesn’t make sense now.
But Jesus isn’t preaching commonly accepted wisdom. He’s instead offering to stretch our minds, to shake them around until they tumble out of the box.
Paul knows that. Paul advises us to have in us the mind which was in Christ. He does not advise us, though, to “try to have a right mind.” Not “you should have a well-informed and well-disciplined mind.” Just “have Jesus’s mind.”
“Jesus” mind. It wasn’t so much that Jesus was out of his mind, but that he had a very different mind. Remember, he so often appears to be beside himself. So – we’re following somebody who is beside himself? It can be tough to be held accountable to the Son of God when he happens to be not only a Jewish Galilean, crucified like a criminal, and, since Easter, on the loose someplace out there (or in here?); when he also happens to be, in the eyes of much of the world, a bit crazy.
Well, is that such a bad thing? Maybe the craziness of Jesus is a contagious blessing. One of the joys of Christian faith is that it’s challenging and refreshing to have our minds messed up by Jesus. To have our ways of thinking turned upside down again. And again. And again.
By the way, do you remember what the episode is that immediately precedes the people’s charge that Jesus is “out of his mind”? The answer is – Jesus appointed twelve apostles to be with him. And he sent them out to preach his message, to have authority to cast out demons: Simon, whom he liked to call Peter; James, son of Zebedee; John, the brother of James – we’re familiar with the names of all those guys.
Jesus’s critics didn’t really mind Jesus’s preaching. He made some interesting points that, crazy as they seemed, certainly bore thinking about. They didn’t mind his casting out demons or raising the dead. That was really a very nice thing for him to do. But when he insanely gave everything he had and all that he hoped to do into the hands of twelve uneducated, under-qualified – yokels – well, the world, looking at his idea of disciples, said, “He’s out of his mind!
While the critics were somewhat troubled when they met Jesus, when they met his assistants -- oooh, that’s us, that’s me and you – then they said, “He’s crazy!” He does sound crazy when we listen to him from the standpoint of what the world teaches us to regard as rational.
But, thanks be to God, to be a disciple of Jesus is to be given the grace to think about and share God, the world, and ourselves in a different way, in Jesus’s crazy, beside himself way, in the kingdom that turns the world’s values upside down and continues to bounce them – and us—on our heads.