The title of this blog is from Mark 3:21. Some of his old homies thought Jesus had gone mad when he began his ministry. He was saying and doing things like casting out demons and forgiving sins that made people wonder—even his family and those whom he’d grown up around in Nazareth were agog: “Isn’t this Joseph the carpenter’s son?”
In his commentary on Mark 3, Barclay points out three things He had given up that caused folks to think Jesus might have gone mad.
(1) Security ~ Most men crave a secure job, a comfortable financial position in life. Jesus had given up his job in the family carpentry business. Presumably, Joseph & Sons was a pretty good carpentry business, and as the eldest Jesus would stand to inherit the family business and property. He had likely given up a somewhat comfortable lifestyle to become a vagrant preacher. If any of my friends gave up a secure job to wander about preaching it’d make me wonder.
(2) Safety ~ One of our greatest human drives is to be safe. But in what He was saying and doing Jesus was placing himself on a collision course with the orthodox authorities. In my book Jesus v. satan: The Message of the Wilderness Temptations I devote considerable space to the temptation of safety. Satan’s third wilderness test is really a temptation of trust. Satan tempts Jesus by challenging Him to jump off of the highest point of the Temple (Luke 4:9). Will His angels intervene to protect Him as it said in Scripture? Most of us accomplish far too little for the Kingdom because of our tendency to play it safe.
(3) Reputation ~ Most of us care far too much about what others think of us. As for Jesus, Barclay puts it: “He had shown himself utterly indifferent to the verdict of society. He had shown that he did not much care what men said about him.” In fact, early on in His ministry some were saying that he was inhabited by demons, or that He was allied with Beelzebub because of His ability to cast out demons. He answered with the famous words about a kingdom divided against itself, or how could Satan cast out Satan.
One category of folks who sometimes give up security, safety and reputation are the mentally ill—most specifically, those out of touch with “reality” like schizophrenics and the seriously bipolar.
The seriously mentally ill can often verbalize truths which make us uncomfortable—and them unpopular. Having no filters, the truths of their unconscious rise to the surface unimpeded by inhibitions or societal conventions, and there is no one quite as unpopular as those who tell us the unvarnished truth about ourselves. However, consider the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:4-30). Jesus told her some very unflattering things about herself but in such a compassionate way that she was moved to accept Him as the Messiah and to tell others from her town about Him. Clearly, Jesus was not mentally ill. The truth-telling of those out of touch with reality is often a discharge of anger. However, the sublime candor of Jesus was to make a point, to heal emotional hurts and to create a disciple.
A younger, more cynical version of myself thought that missionaries who gave up everything to preach the Gospel in remote and dangerous places like the Amazon rain forests, New Guinea or the African Congo had taken leave of their senses. I thought that religion had surely addled their brains. In some cases it had, but now I know that many are not religious in a conventional sense at all. Instead they are Jesus-followers who—leaving their senses behind–are doing the best they can to love their brothers in the same fashion as the Master.