We’ve all seen it used in some cheesy courtroom drama on basic cable.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, yes, my client had motive, his fingerprints are all over the crime scene, and there’s no doubt that he pulled the trigger. But he should not be convicted because my client is absolutely, positively, 100 percent certifiably insane. He is not guilty by reason of insanity!”
The basic theory behind the defense is this: “One who is insane lacks the ‘malice aforethought’ or the intent required to perform a criminal act because the person is either incapable of discerning the difference between right and wrong, or incapable of restraint.”
Interestingly, although the insanity defense, it is relatively rare as a legal strategy, it remains a popular and polarizing piece of legal lore.
And why not? It raises some fascinating questions:
Can someone be held accountable for doing something bad if his or her mind is clouded with craziness?
And besides that, what is crazy anyway? Aren’t we all just a little crazy? What’s the threshold for craziness that suddenly makes one incapable of being found culpable?
And what about subjectivity? One generation’s “crazy” is another generation’s “eccentric.”
And then there’s the issue of genius. Isn’t it true that sometimes our most enlightened and creative people look, think, and act in much the same manner as our most unstable ones?
Such questions come rushing to mind in the third chapter of Mark’s gospel.
Jesus’ popularity is growing. He’s performing miracles— like cleansing lepers and restoring withered hands— but he also says crazy things like, “I am Lord of the Sabbath,” “Your sins are forgiven” and “Hey disciples, I give you authority to cast out demons.”
As a result, he was drawing an uncomfortable amount of attention to himself. So much so, that two groups— those who are closest to him and those most threatened by him—begin asking the same question: “Is this guy crazy?”
In our text we see Jesus’ loved ones stage a failed intervention. “They went out to seize him, for they were saying, ‘He is out of his mind.’” In verse 22, the religious establishment asserts, “He is possessed by Beelzebul.”
While we today have the benefit of faith and perspective to understand that Jesus is not crazy, but is, in fact, God in flesh, we must admit that their speculation isn’t entirely off the rails.
What else must family members, who for 30 years have known a normal Jesus, assume? What other conclusion could the scholarly religious authorities come to?
Sane and non-possessed people don’t turn their lives into a spiritual freak show. They don’t make claims of being a deity and publicly discuss demons. That’s not normal. Not then and not now.
But sometimes “crazy” and “genius” look a lot alike, don’t they? Such is the case with Jesus.
It’s not that he’s “mad”; rather it’s just that his world—the kingdom of God and he as its leader—are so otherworldly, that it surprises us and shakes our foundations.
Humanity had never seen such power on public display. It had never heard such values being taught. It had never witnessed such dynamic, charismatic and divine authority wrapped in so much weakness.
Jesus was a homeless, self-made rabbi from Nazareth, with “no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him”, according to Isaiah’s prophesy of the Messiah. We, too, would call him crazy.
Jesus, for his part, does not seem at all bothered by the accusations of insanity.
Instead, Jesus takes the response of those concerned and uses it to illustrate a dividing line between saving faith and damning disbelief.
Those who are able to set aside the “crazy” indictments are those who can see that behind the jaw-dropping miracles and alarming message is the very Spirit of God.
A truth worth remembering is that the kingdom of God, the work of the Spirit will always disrupt and disturb a “sane” world. Meaning, if “craziness” is persistently violating social norms with little regard for oneself, then the work of Jesus fits the description. After all…
The world idolizes logic and reason, yet God’s people live by faith.
The world abuses the weak and poor. God’s people embrace the lowly as the greatest among us.
The world rewards the strongest and the most capable. We openly confess our struggles and repent of our sins.
The world says, “You are entitled to hate those that hurt you.” Yet, we love our enemies, and pray for our persecutors.
The world is full of people scrambling to stock up as much earthly treasure as they can before they die. We seek to give it away in favor of treasure in heaven.
The world sleeps in on Sundays and brunches before noon. We get out of bed early to have a cup of coffee with those who were strangers, but became family.
The world’s motto is “Love yourself.” Our motto is, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
All this is to say, if Christians are called “crazy” from time to time, well, as Jesus might have put it, “Good, because turning the table of the status quo was what I was going for.”
If the God we worship is not deeply disrupting and uncomfortably confronting within some part of our lives, then the God we worship is likely one of our own creation, and not the Creator of the universe.
Nowhere is this illustrated more vividly than in the life of Jesus. Take for instance the Incarnation, which doesn’t make sense.
Paul says to the Philippians, “Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.”
Take for instance the cross, which doesn’t make sense either.
Paul says, “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
God in flesh, giving his life as a gift for a rebellious and evil humanity is pure foolishness. It is crazy—but yet God did.
Then there’s the mystery of Salvation, which doesn’t make sense. Every other religious system requires that the one being rescued do something: grow in certain knowledge or demonstrate certain obedience. But we are told that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and made us alive when we were dead.
God, by God’s Spirit, brings us and feeds us an unrelenting course of undeserved mercy and grace. This truth runs counter to all that we celebrate in our world. It’s not how careers are conquered, how championships are won or a heart is wooed. It is, to the human hearer, completely ludicrous. And yet God did.
And when this ludicrous truth lays hold of you, when embraced, by faith, it changes you. At least it should.
And because God implores us to change our ways and our views, in some way, as God breaks into our world through the Son, the Word, and Spirit-filled people, God will offend and jar the sensibilities of everyone at some time or another.
We need only turn to the second chapter of Acts where, with dumbfounded, wide-eyed wonder, the world responds to the early believers saying, “Look at them. They share their stuff. They celebrate in their struggles. They eat flesh and drink blood. We can’t hate them … they’re insane.”
And so I’ll say it again… If the God we worship is not deeply disrupting and uncomfortably confronting, within some part of our lives, then the God we worship is likely one of our own creation, and not the Creator of the universe.
So what if the church today embraced Jesus’ model of crazy?
What if, rather than worry about fitting in and being relevant, the church chose to bear hug its disrupting, uncomfortable, confronting craziness?
We could be like that one person we all know—because we all know that one person who just doesn’t care what anyone thinks about them.
You know who in your life I’m talking about—and admit it—you kind of admire them. That one person who lets his crazy flag fly…
That one person who puts out the gaudiest decorations for Christmas…
That one person who gets the mail in his boxer shorts…
That one person who sits in the driveway, with a smile on his face, drinking wine from a box and waving hello to all that pass by.
What if the church was that guy?
What if the church functioned with that kind of crazy whimsy?
Would the church be less put-off when the homeless woman wanders in on a Sunday morning, giving her a seat of honor and affording her great dignity?
Would the church encourage radical generosity among the people? You know; the kind of generosity that makes people talk about you behind your back.
Would the church start ministries that do more than entertain children and adults, but rather pursues the prostitute and rescues the addict with no regard for its own reputation?
Would the church preach the frightening depths of God’s demands upon humanity— for righteousness and purity— yet counter it with a jaw-dropping and offensive amount of grace afforded us in Christ?
What if the church was this kind of crazy?
Jesus’ friends and family wondered if he was crazy. Fortunately we don’t need to wonder such.
What we need to wonder is: Are we crazy enough?
But note, when we do, if we do, the answer will undoubtedly be “no.”
So let us, then, be set free with the crazy message of the gospel: “Christ has been crucified to cover our lack of crazy.” Let us go forth with the reminder that we have been set free as agents of an upside down and insane world known as the kingdom of God.
Now sure, some will take offense at the whole notion of being “crazy for Jesus.”
But let us take comfort with these parting thoughts… First, just because we’re labeled as “crazy” doesn’t mean we actually are. Some of the world’s greatest influencers were once thought nuts, like Beethoven and Isaac Newton. We’re in good company.
Second, if by some chance we do come under fire for radically and faithfully following Jesus, we’ve got a great defense: Guilty by reason of insanity.
So let’s give it a shot. After all, it’s what Jesus did. Amen.