It is always a happy accident when April 1st, traditionally celebrated as April Fool’s day, falls in Holy Week. It is a reminder that a certain kind of divine foolishness marked every stage of Jesus’ life and ministry.
He was a fool to be born in a marginal northern province, well away from the spheres of influence. It would have been so much wiser to have been born amongst the elite, where he could have had natural influence. He could have been of royal blood, or like Moses pretended to be so. I was recently told that, in order to act like a king, you need to have been raised as a king, and Jesus needed that more than anything. Perhaps the place he was raised was a community who were looking for the ‘netzer’ or Branch of David of Is 11.1—but religious fervour is no substitute for wealth and influence. What a fool.
He was a fool for having his birth announced to a ragtag assortment of foreigners and shepherds. Magicians who use the stars to tell the future are hardly going to be a commendation to God’s people for whom such things are forbidden. And the shepherds will hardly be the most trusted witnesses, even if their sheep are connected with the temple sacrifices. And why hide away, in Egypt or in Galilee, in obscurity for so many years, satisfied with being a good Jewish boy and honouring father and mother, when a few spectacular childhood miracles would have marked him out for future greatness? What a fool.
He was a fool to follow that raving eccentric John the Baptist, even if he was a relation. He was never going to match that crazy desert showman, and it is a wonder that he managed to draw people from John’s crowd to follow him. And he was a fool to begin his ministry by announcing the imminent coming of the ‘kingdom of God’. Surely he must have known that later scholars would denounce him as a deluded apocalyptic prophet, whose message would come crashing down around his ears when this ‘kingdom’ didn’t transpire as he had hoped, and the world didn’t actually come to an end? What a fool.
He was a fool to claim so much, to put himself and his teaching on a par with the Torah of God, brought down from the mountain by the great leader Moses who spoke with God face to face—what was he thinking? To claim that his words would never pass away, to break with every tradition of the rabbis who carefully quoted preceding authorities, to imagine that a few miracles would trick people into believing his claims. And to claim that the law of Moses wasn’t primarily about outward actions, but was intended to address our inner dispositions—how unrealistic! What a fool.
He was a fool to choose those 12 men—and even more foolish to count women amongst his disciples (we all know how unreliable they are). Did he think he could begin a national renewal movement with that mixed bag, demonstrating a strange predilection for choosing those he knew and was related to above people who would be obvious leaders? How could he possibly think they would get on together—a mixture of the impetuous, the arrogant, the revolutionary, the obscure—and even the plain greedy, out just to further their own ambitions? What could anyone make of them? And they were so slow to understand his message, even after all the time he had spent with them! What a fool.
Having chosen this ragtag bunch, he was a fool to tell them more than they could understand. How foolish to take them aside, and invest them with special teaching about this ‘kingdom’, as if they could be trusted to pass it on reliably. And how foolish to allow different ones of them to write their own account—surely he knew they would never agree exactly? Why didn’t he writing it down for them, instead of imagining they would remember everything he told them? What a fool.
He was a fool to leave the people who knew and loved him, and set his face towards Jerusalem. He must have known that only trouble lay in wait for him there. He was a fool to enter the city so conspicuously, riding rather than walking like all the other pilgrims, and allowing the Galileans who had travelled with him to acclaim him with such noise—and using slogans with such obvious political implications! If he wanted to win over the Judeans and Jerusalemites, there had to be a better way. He was a fool to argue with the teachers of the law in such a public place, and to confront the powers that be in the temple courts. Did he think they would just roll over and let him upset the delicate balance of power with the Romans? What a fool.
He was a fool to give so much of himself in those last moments. He was a fool to keep Judas so close to him so near to the end, when he knew what would become of him. He was a fool to trust his oh-so-frail friends in the garden, who couldn’t even stay awake whilst he was agonising with life and death decisions. He was a fool to accept the cup being offered to him, a fool to trust that God would save him from the agony. He was a fool to try and bargain with Pilate—what would that thug understand about the things of God? He was a fool to keep silent in his trials, when only days before he has been silencing his critics with the theological deftness of his response. And he was a fool to think that Peter would stay with him to the end. What a fool.
Yet when God raised him from the dead, the foolishness continued! He was a fool to trust women to testify his new life, and a fool to think that an empty tomb and some cloths neatly arranged would provide the proof that sceptics demanded. He was a fool to give his followers a second chance, when they had failed so badly the first time around. He was a fool to leave them alone to spread the message—a fool to be taken up to his Father again. Why not make a dramatic appearance to a few key figures, and all the doubt would be driven away? And he was a fool to do all this in a very small corner of a very large empire. Why not instead find a way to establish this message in the courts of Rome? What a fool.
And he continues to be a fool. He is a fool to make himself known to ordinary people, expecting that their simple testimony will change the world. He is a fool to partner with people like you and me, imagining that frail failures like us can possibly bear the hope for the whole world. Who will believe the testimony of people with such imperfect lives? He is a fool to lavish on us the wonders of hope for the world that is to come, when we continually distort what we’ve been given and turn a vision of hope into a timetable for doomsday. What a fool.
And yet, as Paul says, ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength’ (1 Cor 1.25). Somehow or other, this fool Jesus has proved to be wiser than all the councils of humanity, and has changed the world like no-one else. And as he has been foolish for us, he now asks us to be foolish for him.
He asks us to embark on the folly of trusting that there are things that are more important than material gain. That our reputation with an unseen deity matters more than the reputation with people we can see and hear. He asks that we are foolish enough to believe that we can be rich though we are poor, that we gain most when we give the most away. Foolish enough to think that our testimony will change the world more than politics and power. Foolish enough to live by the high standard he calls us to, stubbornly uncompromising, rather than going with the flow of the world around us when it would make life so much easier for all concerned. And foolish enough to live in the hope that the best is yet to be, when so many around us tell us it it not true.
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep in order to gain what he cannot lose. (Jim Elliot)
This Easter, let us celebrate the fool Jesus, that he might make us as foolish as he is.
(Previously published in 2018.)