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Lawrence Garcia: Jesus the Jester: Recovering the Holy Folly of the Gospel

Guest blog by Lawrence E. Garcia, Senior Teaching Pastor of Academia Church in Goodyear, Arizona. This is a church that seeks, (as does his blog) to engage both the scholarly world of Academics and the normative life of the church. Ultimately, Larry’s aim is invite the lay-reader to think through the complexities of the Faith so as to arrive at a more robust and comprehensive understanding of Jesus and Scripture. He can be seen on TCT’s “He Chose You” and the forthcoming show “The Story of Scripture.” He is currently attending Liberty University.

He says of himself: “I have made it my life's work to teach Christians to not only tell and live out their faith, but to think it through with equal vigor.” And, Larry’s commitment to thinking through the faith in a disciplined way is evidenced in everything he writes.

Larry blogs at:
The Plow Boy. It is a theology blog that should be on your list. (And, yes, you should have a list.)

I couldn’t think of more appropriate thoughts than these on a day we designate to be
April Fools Day. Jesus was the ultimate Holy Fool.

Jesus the Jester: Recovering the Holy Folly of the Gospel

The natural human tendency of assessing Jesus of Nazareth is to fit him somewhere within the current social hierarchical structure or to [dis]lodge his teachings and actions along a currently acceptable theological status quo. Jesus belongs here among us and he means precisely this or that; so the theologian, the pastor, the scholar, the Conservative, and the Liberal say. Either way, Jesus is made to be another blue, or grey, suit busying along our theological Wall Street at rush hour; simply blending in with our daily routines and worldviews — not challenging them, disorientating us, and as a result creating new horizons for life’s potentiality within the kingdom of God.

But Jesus, much to our utter dissatisfaction, was a Holy Fool, and fools as such are impossible to pin down, much less categorize in absolutist terms. And the unexpected antics of the sanctified trickster will often joyfully dance across the accepted borders of what is considered moral, the socially acceptable, and whatever is the currently reigning theological paradigm.  Charles Campbell in his Preaching Fools: The Gospel as a Rhetoric of Folly sums it up well:

Just as he dies as a fool, parodying the parodic exaltation of the cross, so throughout his ministry Jesus plays the fool… Jesus is a radically liminal figure, crossing boundaries, teaching and preaching with intentional ambiguity, and calling people to perceive and live at a threshold of the old age and the new—in the reign of God that is breaking into the world. Jesus’ words and deeds interrupt the conventions and myths and rationalities of his day—and ours.

More than a mere holy fool, Jesus was the epitome of all jesters—the Jester—the world has ever seen. As Campbell notes, jesters usually came from the margins of society, were permitted into the courts of power (hence, also “insiders”), and whose bodily figures were regularly misshapen to some degree. As Campbell states, “Their role as both insiders and outsiders enables them to critique the world of the powerful.” The incarnation, in fact, is the first great jesterian act of God recorded in the Gospels. Jesus the Messianic Jester who will parody worldly glory and power in the halls of Pontius Pilate is from the margins of society, a farm animal’s manger to be exact; and whose misshapen features caused by the end of a Roman lash mocks our pretensions about beauty and forces us to rethink our aesthetics of glory.

Our familiarity with the Gospel narratives causes the ironic humor of Jesus’ theatrical performance to recede into the night of our subconscious, perhaps even our unconscious. Ancient audiences would have laughed at paradoxes like the blessed poor and the woeful rich; and would have keeled over in laughter at a Jesus’ climactic act of doubly-parodic royal crucifixion. It’s why the audience around the cross mocked him continually—they were just going along with the comedic show. Moreover, the whole scene seems to overflow in jovial nonsense when Jesus begins to actually issue commands to his disciples from the cross!—who does he think he is?

Again Charles Campbell is instructive here:

Through it all, however, Jesus remains an elusive figure, like the fool—his identity hidden, always open to multiple interpretations, always creating liminal space that calls for discernment. Some follow him; others conclude he is mad or possessed by Beelzebub. And the in the end he is crucified, his foolish life culminating in the foolishness of the cross.

He is the mirthful and rummy King of the cosmos who manages to continuously embarrass his followers who, rather naively, continuously attempt to tame him and make him more acceptable; Jesus, you can’t ennoble the homeless and then go eat at a rich man’s house; you can’t command us not look at a woman with lust in our hearts and then let a woman of questionable history lather you down publically in oil; and you certainly can’t claim to be the Messiah and then be undressed and publically humiliated at your crucifixion! And yet ironically, if it wasn’t for this ludicrous performance the hardened soil of our hierarchical structures, complacent worldviews, and dominating ideologies would not be unsettled enough so that the seed of the kingdom can be sown in the hearts of women and yes, men.

Jesus cannot, then, be made to “fit” any of our current categories much less be explained in such a way that there is no unsettling ambiguity; rather, it is his theatrical invasion into the world that knocks the world off of its axis landing us all in a wild-erness trek where neither Egypt nor the Promise Land are quite yet home, a place where nothing is settled absolutely. As St. Paul said, “For God’s folly is wiser then humanity’s wisdom.”

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