Surely We Jest: Holy Foolishness

Surely We Jest: Holy Foolishness

“In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus was crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow Him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under a cross than under a delusion.”  (Frederick Buechner)

When I was a teenager thick in the middle of the 60’s Jesus Movement, I liked wearing a t-shirt that read “I’m a fool for Christ” on the front and “Whose fool are you?” on the back. It’s still a great question. One sign of faith in God is to accept the fact that this world is the High King’s courtyard. And often enough, He has a royal request: We are to play the jester before Him. This jesting is far from a private audience, though, since the world is bound to be watching. And our public foolery isn’t intended to entertain the King, but instead represent Him, and reveal to the viewing audience what’s on the King’s mind… that weakness is a gift; the meek are super heroes; the persecuted are the elites; the forgotten are the blessed; and the outsiders are the in-crowd.

So the King’s jesters are living, breathing visual aids, object lessons with flesh on. Because the King’s thinking is often different than His subject’s, He needs to teach His lessons and do His deeds through those who don’t mind looking foolish for the sake of His kingdom. And since the King is holy, His courtly representatives are on a sacred mission.

As the King’s holy fools, we sometimes are honored and respected by the world’s observers. Other times though, we are expected to make royal spectacles of ourselves. In fact, down through the ages many of His jesters have been ridiculed, ignored, misunderstood and worse…

  • Abram sells his heirlooms, packs up his family, and leaves home for parts unknown on a wing and a prayer;
  • Noah builds the world’s biggest boat on dry land, without a cloud in sight, and proceeds to fill it with animals;
  • Moses talks to a burning bush, one-ups the Pharaoh, and hikes through the mountains and desert with a mutinous mob of bickering malcontents for 40 years, and still never entered the promised destination;
  • Rahab, the lady of the night, fibs to her king, hides enemy spies, sends the cops on a wild goose chase, and continues the royal bloodline of the High King, Messiah;
  • Gideon takes on a huge, fearsome enemy with only a small handful of raw recruits, trumpets, torches, clay pots, and booming voices;
  • David the young king dances a heavenly jig in public worship, without a care in the world for royal reputation or domestic embarrassment;
  • Isaiah, after an extended time in burlap sack leisure wear, walks around barefoot in his underwear for three full years to teach a lesson for the Lord;
  • Jeremiah travels anything but light for months at a time, with a wooden oxen yoke fastened around his neck;
  • Ezekiel mixes what appears to be cow manure into his hamburger meat at God’s request, and eats this hearty barbecue for 390 days, while laying on his side;
  • Jonah hears the Call, sails in the opposite direction, gets thrown in the drink and swallowed by a fish, is belched onto shore, and proceeds to shout fire and brimstone to a nasty enemy.

It looks like Christian author Flannery O’Connor was right when she said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.” But we don’t have to go out of our way to be peculiar. And it’s not necessarily righteous to be weird for Jesus. It seems that foolishness just seems to happen naturally enough when we take God at His word, and when we follow His lead in offering a countercultural presence wherever we find ourselves… Forgetting ourselves on purpose instead of living out an achievement-fueled ambition; forgiving others and bearing burdens instead of judging others and bearing grudges; seeking depth of character instead of breadth of financial portfolio; sharing power instead of hoarding it. The list goes on, and it’s clear that holy foolishness is not an easy lifestyle. But take heart, for we are told by the King that sooner or later, in His timing, His court jesters trump all that this world considers wise.

“Don’t fool yourself. Don’t think that you can be wise merely by being up-to-date with the times. Be God’s fool – that’s the path to true wisdom. What the world calls smart, God calls stupid. It’s written in Scripture, ‘He exposes the chicanery of the chic, the Master sees through the smoke screens of the know-it-alls.'”  (1 Corinthians 3:18-19, The Message)