Pastor Joe Britton
St. Michael’s Church
“The people were saying, ‘He has gone out of his mind.’” (Mark 3)
A crazymaker is someone whose erratic and unpredictable behavior introduces an element of anxiety and distress into some human community. Crazymakers are the type of person who breaks deals and ignores schedules; who thwarts dreams and plans; who expects the world to cater to his or her whims; who find ways to spend your time and your money; who manage always to triangulate any situation; who are superior blamers, yet with a sense of personal superiority. In short, crazymakers are people who constantly create dramas, where no such drama is necessary. As Julia Cameron writes in her book, It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again, “ Life with a crazymaker is debilitating. It becomes a battleground with many skirmishes. … The crazymaker is always looking for the ‘big deal’—the one that will prove the crazymaker right.”
We have all encountered such people: it may be someone in our extended family who keeps everyone at a family gathering on edge. It may be someone at work who disrupts implementing decisions that have been made and goals that have been set. It may be someone in a community organization who always throws a monkey-wrench into what others are trying to do. Crazymakers can turn up anywhere, even in high office.
In fact, in our reading from First Samuel this morning, both God and the prophet warn the people of Israel against wanting a king to rule over them. Up until then, the people had been ruled by one thing and one thing only: the Word of God, given to them at Mt. Sinai. Kings, warns Samuel, have a way of taking for themselves what is not rightfully theirs; they rule not for the common good, but for their own benefit; and they consider themselves to be above the law. They are, in short, the ultimate crazymakers.
Yet, it seems to me that there are nevertheless two types of crazymakers, and that it is important for us to distinguish between them. The first type is the one we are most familiar with: people whose erratic behavior and the resulting disruption of the community is ultimately all about them. Perhaps it is because they crave attention, so they call attention to themselves by acting outside the norms and expectations of everyone else. Perhaps it is because they are deeply insecure, and so cannot contribute positively and meaningfully to a community’s larger goals lest they be left out. Whatever the reason, their behavior is disruptive for the sake of being disruptive—nothing good comes out of it, and people find the behavior exasperating and self-centered.
The second type of crazymaker, however, is someone whose unpredictability is thoughtful and deliberate, and actually intended for good by breaking open a system to reveal either its unrecognized potential, or its inherent flaws. The prophets of the Old Testament, for instance, were this kind of crazymaker—constantly upsetting the applecart by pointing out how the people had forsaken God’s ways, or by calling them toward a higher plane of enacting more fully God’s justice. Their disruptive behavior was positive, directed, motivated by purposes larger than themselves.
And Jesus, too, was also this second kind of crazymaker. Think back to last week’s gospel, where he deliberately upset everyone’s expectations of what appropriate Sabbath observance looks like, turning the Sabbath inside out by healing the sick and feeding the poor even on the seventh day. The assumption was that such work could not, and should not, be done on the Sabbath. But Jesus retorted, “Are we made for the sabbath, or is the Sabbath made for us?” Or in other words, do not works of mercy performed even on the Sabbath reveal more about its intention to draw us into the circle of God’s compassion, than does strict observance of its proscriptions which excuse our indifference to the plight of others? To the people of his day, that was crazymaking!
In fact, by today’s reading, the people have grown convinced that Jesus must be “out of his mind,” a true crazymaker in the worst sense of the word. Even his mother and brothers come looking for him, to beg him to come home, out of the public spotlight. But in another act of crazymaking, Jesus breaks open the very idea of family, saying that whoever does the will of God is now his brother or sister. Suddenly, we are all members not just of our nuclear family, or even our cultural family, but of one human family bound together by loyalty to God’s ways of inclusion and compassion!
Crazymakers like Jesus have something different in mind, than does the narcissistic type of crazymaker who focus attention only upon themselves. Jesus’ crazymaking directed not toward himself, but away from himself, and toward God. It is not that he wants to be the center of attention—far from it—but rather, his intention through his unpredictable behavior is to awaken people to the ways in which their complacent idea of what religion looks like ends up shutting God out altogether. Over and over again, Jesus performs signs that are meant to shake up people’s fixed ideas about such things as who is my neighbor? Who deserves mercy? How far is far enough, when it comes to forgiveness?
… which raises an interesting question for us. In our own lives, do we look to our religious faith primarily for comfort and reassurance, or do we look to our faith to be challenged and disturbed? Do we come here to church expecting our Sabbaths to be quiet, peaceful, and uneventful—or do we come expecting to be confronted by the newness of God’s Word, and to be changed in the process? Scripture itself bears witness to both expectations: the psalms that we sing each week can for instance both soothe us, and unsettle us. Perhaps they suggest that we can never be truly comforted, unless we are also changing and growing. So I leave the question to you of what your own expectation is: to be consoled, or to be challenged? But as you do, you might want to include in your reflection … that Jesus was a crazymaker. Amen.