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Has Jesus Lost His Mind? (Mark 3)

Jesus entered a house, and the crowd gathered again so that they were not even able to eat. When his family heard this, they set out to restrain him, because they said, “He’s out of his mind.” (Mark 3:20–22 CSB)

The Professor and the Madman

In his bestselling novel, Simon Winchester tells the harrowing tale of The Professor and the Madman. The professor, James Murray, served as the longtime editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. The “madman,” William Chester Minor, was a prolific contributor to the work. Minor, a medical doctor who had fought in the Civil War but was plagued by a severe mental illness. He had murdered an innocent man in a case of mistaken identity that led to Minor’s incarceration.

Confined to a lunatic asylum, Minor found meaning in immersing himself in linguistic research, sending copious notes to Murray. For the longest time, Murray was unaware of the background of the lexicographic prodigy. The mystery man preferred to remain in obscurity until Murray eventually tracked him down. To his amazement, he discovered that Minor was, quite literally, out of his mind. As the fascinating story of the professor and the madman illustrates, at times the line between erudition and lunacy can be fine indeed.

The Charge of Lunacy: Has Jesus Lost His Mind?

Similarly, Mark’s Gospel reports a curious incident when Jesus’s family heard about the demands put on him in his busy ministry. In fact, Jesus’s popularity was so great and the pressure on him so incessant, that there were times when he was “not even able to eat.” When his family got wind of it, they “set out to restrain him,” no doubt out of genuine concern for his wellbeing, saying, “He’s out of his mind”! Jesus’s family didn’t understand who he truly was nor did they grasp what motivated his mission.

This general incomprehension of Jesus’s nature and movements manifested itself in various ways. Nevertheless, there is something truly curious, even comical, about his family seeking to “restrain” Jesus because they surmised he had lost his mind. If they had understood who he was and what his mission was all about, they would have “restrained” their urge to summon him and bring him home. But, alas, they lacked spiritual understanding and thus acted on mere human impulse.

Have Jesus’ Disciples Lost Their Minds?

In the same way, we, as Jesus’s followers, may be perceived even by those in our own families as “having lost our minds.” Why follow a Jewish carpenter who was crucified two millennia ago? Why forego a comfortable life, forsake the American dream, and choose deprivation and suffering for his cause? By the world’s standards, we’re out of our minds.

Centuries ago, a psalmist named Asaph struggled with this very question, wondering if it was all worth it. Yet after some momentary doubts, he was able to see life from God’s perspective, concluding: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73: 25–26).

Note: For my address, “Of Professors and Madmen: Currents in Contemporary New Testament Scholarship,” click here.

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