“The magnificent madman.” That’s what Vincent Harding called Jesus.

I never thought of him that way but I think it might be a good description of our Lord. I mean no disrespect and certainly do not intend any sacrilege. But if you think about the things He said and did, it is easy to see that he was not in step with society. His life and ministry was extremely counter-cultural.

Harding grew up in Harlem. After completing his PhD from the University of Chicago, he was invited to be the chair of the History and Sociology Department at Atlanta’s Spelman College. He was a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr. and occasionally wrote speeches for him.

After King’s assassination in 1968, Harding worked with Coretta Scott King to establish the King Center in Atlanta and was the Center’s first director. From 1981 until his retirement in 2004 he was professor of religion and social transformation at Denver’s Iliff School of Theology.

In an interview with Krista Tippett Harding was talking about the difficulty of transforming the world into the kind of place that God intended. He referred to Jesus as “that magnificent madman” who suggested that that if we really hunger and thirst after righteousness, we will find the way. We will be filled.

You don’t have to think very hard to remember numerous times that Jesus gave expression to some pretty radical ideas and actions.

Jesus was seen “having supper with a collection of disreputable guests” and “acting cozy with the riffraff” (Mark 2:15-16, The Message). He touched the untouchables (Matthew 8:3). He gave meaning and worth to the marginalized (Luke 10, John 4).  He forgave the sins of people (Luke 5). Certainly his actions were out of the ordinary.

One Sabbath day while he was teaching in the synagogue there was a woman there who was bent over and could not straighten up. Jesus healed her and the religious leaders got upset because he “worked on the Sabbath.” He reminded them that there were occasions when action was needed immediately and the need trumped the law (Luke 13;10-17).

Jesus’ replied harshly to the rich young man who inquired about what he needed to do to get eternal life. His answer, “Sell all you have and give it to the poor,” left the man startled and sad. And his explanation to the disciples that it was “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” did not make sense to his disciples (Matthew 19:16-30).

“Love your enemies and pray for those who mistreat you” must have sounded strange (Matthew 5:44) and who could possibly understand if you “want to be first you must be least of all and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35)? And how can it be that “those who love their lives will lose them, and those who hate their lives in this world will keep them forever” (John 12:25)?
When Jesus confronted the money changers in the temple He said, “My house will be called a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers” (Mark 12:15-18). He must have sounded like a foolish braggart when he claimed if the temple was destroyed he could rebuild it in three days.

Those kinds of words will get you killed! And that is exactly what happened to this “magnificent madman” but He had the last word on Resurrection Day!

Jamie Jenkins