She pointed at me. Repeatedly rocked left and right with an imaginary steering wheel in outstretched hands. Pointed at herself. And concluded her brief pantomime by spinning her hand and extended index finger in circles around her temple.
“You drive me crazy,” was the message.
I didn’t need her to explain what she meant. We all understood without a word. On our elementary school playground and in our classrooms—when the teacher wasn’t looking—we had a small, makeshift sign-language vocabulary for our classmates.
Mostly it was girls who targeted boys with this particular sign for annoyance. Having raised two boys myself, I think I may understand why. And to be perfectly honest, I often wonder if my wife Joy and my daughter Meredith aren’t doing that same pantomime in their heads in response to me and my adult sons.
Strictly speaking, family can drive you crazy.
We share limited space and busy calendars and competing wants and clashing expectations. We talk too much, talk too little, leave our mess for others to clean up, and use up all the hot water in the morning.
This is all within the normal range of crazy-making. The minor leagues of family lunacy.
Sadly, some of us hit the big leagues. Addiction, abuse, mental illness. One of us can start spiraling down the drain and, nine times out of ten, all the rest of us start swirling around with the stricken one. They don’t really drive us crazy. We hop on the crazy bus with them and start to call it normal.
We frequently see this in families of addicts and alcoholics. Whole families develop daily patterns and routines to compensate for and to prop up the one who keeps getting loaded. Lots of damage is done. Resentments accumulate. Maintaining appearances, keeping your financial head above water, tiptoeing around just to keep some semblance of peace and normalcy take their toll. Some things just can’t be talked about. To anybody. Ever.
Everybody’s crazy in these families. And part of the battiness is the tacit agreement to call all of this normal. The unspoken family motto is, “It is what it is.” There’s nothing to be done. Just cope. Hang on until the clock runs out. Maybe something will happen.
Crazy reaches previously unprecedented levels when somebody refuses to live the lie. Somebody simply says, “This is nuts! We’re not doing this anymore.” It’s as if the looney family has been a pot full of water on the stove all this time, and only just this moment somebody has turned on the rapid boil.
Paradoxically, normal—healthy, sane, nurturing, and whole—begins to look threatening. After all, crazy is all we’ve ever known. And anybody who tries to restore things to normal looks like the crazy one. They’re refusing to live in the real world. In the world we’ve grown accustomed to inhabiting. They’re threatening to tear down the universe where we’ve finally achieved some kind of competence, some kind of control, some kind of sustainable existence.
They’re crazy. You know. Like Jesus.
In today’s Gospel, we hear that people think he’s crazy. Demonic, even. His own family wants to drag him back home till he comes to his senses. The religious authorities say he’s in league with Satan. (Mark 3:21, 22)
And what precisely has Jesus done to incite such a reaction?
Since emerging from a forty day stretch in the wilderness, Jesus has been exorcising demons, healing the sick, cleansing lepers, restoring mobility to paralytics, and making previously useless, withered hands into instruments of delicate precision.
If this is crazy, you might conclude that we need more of it. Not less. And apparently quite a number of people drew precisely that conclusion. So many people gathered around Jesus and his disciples that they couldn’t even grab a bite to eat.
People with shattered lives sought Jesus out at inconvenient times and inappropriate places. They travelled miles and stayed up all hours just to get near him. They limped and crawled and recruited neighbors to carry them to the one who could make them whole.
By contrast, some people were just fine with their own lives. They didn’t want Jesus changing anything about them or their situation. Now what’s curious is that these people—Jesus’ family and the religious authorities—didn’t just say, “No thanks! I’m set.” They wanted Jesus to cut it out. Right now!
This would be baffling if we saw Jesus’ healings and exorcisms as isolated events. As if a few lucky stiffs were getting a huge divine break in their own personal lives.
And I imagine some of us do think that way. That’s why I’ve been asked repeatedly why Jesus healed some but not all. Why did this person catch a break from Jesus but not that other person?
The question assumes that Jesus came to change individual lives only. But that’s not how it works. Jesus came to change the world. The fractured people of this world are not blemishes on an otherwise splendid planet. Broken hearts and hungry bellies and shattered limbs and aching souls and despised populations and persecuted groups reveal a crazy world.
Jesus came to restore everything. When he heals one, he is healing the web within which we are all intertwined. In Jesus God is restoring the whole creation to sanity.
Here’s how Jesus himself puts it at the beginning of his ministry. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15) Did you catch that? He said “kingdom.”
The human family is crazy. It’s not just that this, that, or the other person is crazy. We’ve all gotten on the crazy bus. We wage war. We live with poverty in our midst. We hold others in contempt because they are not like us.
We can’t get ourselves off the crazy bus. But Jesus can. And no one gets off without everyone getting off.
To heal anyone, Jesus transforms everyone.
Jesus will not end armed conflicts in the Middle East and in Africa or anywhere else without also giving us hearts that renounce force and violence as the means to bring peace.
Jesus will not end poverty in this country and abroad without also healing us of our own addiction to comfort and ceaseless consumption.
Jesus will not bring an end to the crime in our neighborhoods and the violence on our streets without also making us know in our very marrow that our own well-being is bound up forever with the well-being of everyone else.
Following Jesus only looks crazy at first. It only takes a little while walking along with him to realize that we’re only just beginning to see what God intends life to be.
Bishop Jake Owensby preached this sermon at Trinity Episcopal Church in Deridder, LA.