Was Jesus Insane? Possessed? Opposed to Family Values? (Mark 3.20–35)

If I were inventing a messianic religion, I would not write the kind of stories about the Messiah we find in Mark 3.20–35.

According to that passage, when Jesus’ family heard about what he was doing, they formed a psychological opinion: “He is out of his mind.” Pious, well-educated religion professors made a spiritual diagnosis: “He is possessed by Beelzebub [i.e., the devil]!” When Jesus’ family arrived on the scene, no doubt to take him home and care for him, he brazenly asked, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” In a patriarchal society such as first-century Palestine, Jesus’ rhetorical question would have been taken as an insult.

New Testament scholars speak of the criterion of embarrassment in regard to the historical Jesus. If the evangelists included material in their Gospels that was embarrassing either to Jesus or the early church, then that material is historically reliable. What could be more embarrassing than an insane Jesus or a demon-possessed Jesus or an anti-“family values” Jesus? The material in Mark 3.20–35 is embarrassing, so we can be sure that we are dealing with the historical Jesus.

What spiritual lessons do we learn from these three vignettes?

First, just as Jesus experienced opposition from his closest family members, so we can expect opposition from those close to us when we take significant forward steps on our spiritual journey. Some people have been blessed to grow up in Christian. Others have not been. Any number of Christians have crossed the line of faith only to have their parents, siblings, spouse, and children denigrate their conversion experience. Just as those Christians felt alone in their faith, so Jesus no doubt felt alone when his family thought him insane. But just as, over time, Jesus’ mother and brothers came to faith in him and exercised leadership roles in the early church, so we can hope that our parents, siblings, spouse, and children will come to share our faith.

Second, Jesus has tremendous spiritual power to change lives. Jesus had a reputation as an exorcist. According to the teachers of the law, “By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.” Jesus refuted their argument with simple logic: “How can Satan drive out Satan? …if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come.” One wonders if, upon hearing this, the well-educated teachers hung their heads in collective shame at their stupidity. Jesus went on to say: “In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man.” By implication, the devil is the strong man whom Jesus has overpowered. He has the power transform every person’s life, no matter how bad his or her initial spiritual condition is.

Third, Jesus prioritizes “kingdom family values.” Jesus was not hostile to families, his own or others’. Rather, Jesus prioritized the family of God. “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” The will of God includes taking care of one’s family (1 Tim. 5.4), but sometimes, what God wants of us and what our families want from us are in conflict, as they were between Jesus and his family. If that happens, our first duty is to do the will of our Heavenly Father.

One thought on “Was Jesus Insane? Possessed? Opposed to Family Values? (Mark 3.20–35)

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  1. Jesus went on to say: “In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man.”

    George: Let’s turn our Lord’s above statement in another direction. Assuming his statement is true, how, then, is it possible for Satan to “carry off [most] of [God’s] possessions [to a so-called hell] unless he first ties up the strong man [Christ]?”

    Is it possible to accept that Satan could ever subdue Christ and, then, “carry off” most of his possessions, i.e., God-created humanity?

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