The Gospel from Saturday’s Mass is a stark and brief one: Jesus came with his disciples into the house. Again the crowd gathered, making it impossible for them even to eat. When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20-21) Many different explanations exist about this obtuse little Gospel.
Of course one theory is just to take it at face value: some in Jesus own family thought he was crazy. I celebrated Mass with the Sisters this morning and speaking with them after Mass most of us could think of at least one family member who thought we were crazy for entering religious life or the priesthood: “You’re throwing your life away! You’re crazy! What a fool!”
Ah, to be a fool for Christ! Now that is a wise thing indeed. But it is so daring and frightening that few even among priests and religious get there. To be a fool for Christ is to be mock, scorned and hated by this world, to be the butt of jokes, to be held in derision. Yet how many of any of us are willing to accept this? We have such a powerful instinct to fit in, be liked, be approved by men. The martyrs of the early Church accepted death for proclaiming and living Christ but we can barely endure a raised eyebrow! Maybe it is ambition that keeps us from the goal. Maybe it is an overly developed wish to live in peace with the world. Maybe it is fear or maybe it is just plain laziness. But few of us Christians can bear the notion of really being thought a fool by this world and so we desperately strive to fit in.
But St. Paul is clear:
Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.”So then, no more boasting about men! (1 Cor 3:18-21).
I am in a year-long process of preparing my parish for an Evangelization outreach. One of the things I tell them repeatedly is that if you evangelize, expect to get it with both barrels. Expect to be scorned, rebuffed and ignored. Expect your children and grandchildren to roll their eyes and say, “There you go again.!” Expect a fallen away member of the family to ridicule you and recite your own past sins. Evangelizing is hard. Sometimes the fruits seem lacking despite repeated attempts. And it is often our own family members that grieve us most. But all of this is just fine. We have to remember that in spite of negative reactions we haven’t done anything wrong. We often think, probably from childhood, that when some one is angry at us we have done something wrong. Not necessarily. Sometimes it means we have done something right. A doctor often causes pain and discomfort in order to bring healing and so it is that the Word of God is sharper that any two edged sword. Sometimes people are angry and “hurt” because we have done something precisely right. The protest of pain often precedes the healing that follows.
But in the end, the biggest obstacle to evangelization is our fragile ego. We are often so afraid to incite a negative reaction, to incur another’s wrath or even worse, ridicule. Perhaps we will be asked a question we cannot answer or the other person will “out maneuver” us with Bible quotes and “win” the argument. Perhaps a fallen away family member will succeed in embarrassing us about our past sins. Perhaps it is just too painful to be told “no” again by a spouse or child who refuses to go to Church. Perhaps we will end up feeling like a fool.
And there it is, that word again: fool! Are you and I willing to be made a fool for Christ’s sake? Are we willing to risk ridicule and failure in order to announce Jesus Christ? The world has gone mad and the Gospel is “out of season.” More than ever the Lord needs a few fools to risk ridicule and hatred to proclaim his gospel to a hostile world that often thinks it is a foolish doctrine that is hopelessly out of touch.
It is said that among some of the Monks of the Orthodox Church it is common to place upon their tombstone the phrase: “Fool for Christ” Not bad. I pray that I will increasingly live a life worthy of the title. And if I do, kindly grant me the favor of inscribing on MY tombstone: “Fool for Christ.”
Here’s a little video showing forth Christ as “fool.” After this discourse the cry went up, “How can anyone take him seriously!” (Jn 6:60)