A Fool for Christ: Brent Neely

Fall is upon us and October is here (and I forgot that September has thirty days, so this post is a few hours late). This month’s post is from NazToo-er, Brent D. Neely. He is the pastor of the Cape Elizabeth Church of the Nazarene in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. He is passionate about loving God and loving neighbors in a way that reflects the beauty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He is a fan of liturgy, tattoos, and pugs!

Anyone who knows me well can name my favorite saint in Church history without hesitation – Brother Juniper! Brother Juniper was a Franciscan friar and one of the original disciples of Saint Francis of Assisi. He was known as a “fool for Christ.” What a beautiful title. He was not afraid of what others would think of him, he didn’t care if they thought him a fool, he only cared that he was living out the Kingdom of God here and now for the sake of others. If you will, I would like to tell you a few stories about this servant of God.

Brother Juniper was once left in charge of greeting those who would come to visit the brothers. More than once someone had come up to Brother Juniper and asked him if the brothers could spare anything to help the person go on their way. Without hesitation Brother Juniper would run and grab some supplies and give them to the wanderer. This happened on so many occasions that Brother Juniper’s superior told him he could no longer be in charge of greeting the visitors because he was giving too much away! Oh, that we would be too generous in our help of others.

This second story is what caused Brother Juniper to be my favorite saint. Brother Juniper had a knack (or a habit if you will! *Bah dum tss!*) of going into town and meeting with the poor and beggars. When he would visit with them he would occasionally find one that was naked. Brother Juniper knew the shame that came from this, so he would take off his habit, strip down, and give it to the beggar. He would sacrifice his own dignity for the sake of his brother or sister on the street. Brother Juniper did this more than once. He often gave away his habit and it was costing his brothers a bit of money. His superior brought him aside one day and told him “Brother Juniper I forbid you from giving your habit away anymore. You cannot give this one away.” Brother Juniper respected those with authority over him. He agreed that he would not give away any more habits.

 

Sometime later he was back in town walking along the streets and praying. He met a beggar who was in need of clothes. The beggar said, “I know who you are, you are Brother Juniper, may I receive your cloak?” Thinking back to his superior’s commandsScreen Shot 2017-10-01 at 9.13.19 AM Brother Juniper replied “I am sorry, I cannot give you my habit. I have been forbidden by my superior to do so. . . but I will not stop you if you try to take it from me!” So once again, Brother Juniper walked through the town looking like a fool as he had had his habit taken from him. Of course, he was as happy as could be, though. He viewed each beggar as Christ, so he was thrilled to be a fool for Christ! Oh, that we too would view all we came into contact with as Christ.

Saint Francis viewed Brother Juniper as a beloved fool for Christ and had this to say about his brother, friend, and early disciple: “Would to God, my brothers, that I had a whole forest of such Junipers!” Oh for a forest full of foolish Junipers who gave grace and mercy abundantly!

This foolish (according to the world), often naked, saint lived out what he prayed. Like most Christians, he prayed the Lord’s Prayer frequently. One of the lines in the Lord’s Prayer is “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth just as it is in heaven.” Brother Juniper took this line seriously. He knew that if he was in heaven and he saw a friend without clothes and no way to stay warm that he would give him his habit. He knew that in the Kingdom of God, that which would one day become one with the earth, everyone would take care of one another and there would be no shame, so why not live into it now? He viewed everyone he came into contact with as members of the divine Kingdom of God which would one day be fully realized. Brother Juniper lived out God’s Kingdom and God’s will on earth just as it was in heaven. He lived as if heaven and earth were already one.

When I think of Brother Juniper and the way he lived his life I always think back to a quote an Orthodox priest told me in college. “The most important person is the one in front of you, the most important moment is right now, and the most important task is the one you are doing.” (To see more about this thought, and where the priest got this from, see Leo Tolstoy’s The Emperor’s Three Questions) I believe my favorite saint, along with most saints, embodied that thought.

These are a few of the things that I believe are important:

  • We are to be fools for Christ
  • We are to live out our prayer for God’s Kingdom and will to be here on earth just as it is in heaven
  • The person in front of me is the most important person in the world
  • The current moment is the most important moment in the world
  • The current task in the most important task in the world

We can learn a lot from Brother Juniper and the way he lived his life. It was a life of holiness. It was a life that practiced what he prayed. It was a life where he loved the other self-sacrificially no matter what it cost him or the shame that it brought about. I want to be like Brother Juniper. I want to be a fool for Christ! Oh, and I’m Nazarene, too!

Editor’s note: To hear a song address this idea, listen to Michael Card’s “God’s Own Fool.”