I’ve been thinking about the oddest things Jesus ever said, the ones his first hearers thought crazy. One could make a case for quite a few of them: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” or “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” There are many others but let me give you my top four.
Number four on the list: “My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink.” That not only sounds crazy, it seems perverse. Jesus’s first hearers found it repulsive. It shocked his own disciples and many of them left because he said it.
Number three on my list is this: “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Jesus lived approximately two millennia after Abraham yet claimed that Abraham had seen his day – whatever that means – and rejoiced. When his hearers objected to this, he said: “Before Abraham was, I am.” Those disputing with him had already accused him of being out of his mind. Now, they were sure of it.
Number two on my list of (seemingly) crazy sayings comes from the night Jesus was betrayed. His disciples were confused by something he had just said and Philip, who always appears confused when he shows up in the Gospels, said to Jesus: “Show us the Father, and we’ll be satisfied,” (That tops the list of craziest things the disciples ever said.) Jesus replied, “Philip, don’t you know that anyone who has seen me has seen the Father?” That was like saying, “You want to see God, Philip? You’re looking at him.”
From my perspective, the most off the wall thing Jesus ever said was spoken to his friend Martha after her brother’s untimely death. He had offered her what seemed like a trite religious platitude: “Your brother will rise again.” Martha, not in the mood for platitudes, answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” To which Jesus responded – my number one saying for strangeness – “I am the resurrection.”
First century Judaism was divided into two major camps: those who believed in resurrection and those who did not. The two camps are represented in the New Testament by the Pharisees (who believed) and the Sadducees (who did not). But whether you fit into the Pharisees’ camp (as most people did) or into the Sadducees’ camp, you would at least agree on what you disagreed on.
Resurrection was, in first century Jewish thought, a worldwide event in which everyone who ever lived and died would be returned to life and given a body suited to the new age. The idea is from the Old Testament, including this passage from the prophet Daniel: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”
So when Jesus said to Martha: “I am the resurrection,” it sounded to her as if he were saying, “The coming alive from the dead of all the people who ever lived – that’s me. That’s what I am.”
To say, “I am the resurrection” is like saying, “I am the creation” or “I am the end of the world.” Were anyone else to say that, we would conclude he was deranged. But when Jesus says it, it’s different because he’s different. If anyone could be the resurrection – the coming to life of everyone who ever died – it would be him.
It turns out that the resurrection – this coming to life of everyone who ever died – is not waiting for the end of the world. It’s already begun, as Jesus knew it would, with himself. But there is an order to it, as St. Paul teaches: Jesus, the representative human, first; followed, at his return, by those who belong to him; and then by everyone else.
As with all Jesus’s “crazy” sayings, this one only seems crazy because we do not understand ourselves or the world in which we live. This claim is full of meaning and hope. It sums up God’s ancient promises in Jesus who, far from being crazy, is history’s smartest person.