According to the gospels, Jesus claimed to be the Messianic Deliverer of Israel. He predicted his own death and resurrection, events which he believed would lead to the establishment of a literal Kingdom of God on earth. He himself would rule that kingdom as the Messiah, the “Son of Man.” Thus, Jesus challenged the authority of Rome by going to Jerusalem, entering the city like King David, and wreaking havoc on the merchants who did business in the Temple. At the request of the priestly elite, he was executed by the Romans, who rightly saw him as a political revolutionary wanting to overthrow their Judaean collaborators and end Roman rule. This is the interpretation of Jesus’ ministry according to many scholars, with whom I agree.
Some writers argue that Jesus’ claims and actions were signs of a delusional or psychotic personality, of a man who suffered from megalomania, paranoia, or schizophrenia. They often point out that Jesus was even accused by his family, his followers, and his contemporaries of being insane and possessed by demons. Mark (3:20-21) tells us, “Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind’” (NIV). The family must have been alarmed by Jesus’ challenge to the Jewish ritual purity system, in which they had been reared. No doubt they didn’t comprehend how Jesus’ ethic of love was superior to the system of sacrifice and ritual cleansing maintained by the priestly class. And they were taken aback by the adoring crowds that followed this scion of a humble family.
Well, I certainly don’t agree that Jesus was psychotic. The hall mark of psychosis is a disconnect from reality, particularly social reality. Jesus well understood the reality of Roman oppression—which was why he attracted crowds of poor, downtrodden people. Moreover, his emphasis on love, forgiveness, and compassion was part of a Jewish prophetic tradition that lived on beside the dominant ritualistic religion of his day. And many first century Jews—not just Jesus—believed in a Messiah who would free Judaea from Roman rule. In other words, the messianic idea was a religious-cultural reality that Jesus embraced. As to his supposed megalomania, that quality was actually a profound sense of mission and a loving service to God and the Jewish people.
Schizophrenics are characterized by their withdrawal from, and lack of connection to, other people. Certainly, Jesus frequently wanted to get away from the crush of a crowd, but he was extremely sociable. He loved parties and the companionship of women. Although I doubt its historicity, in the Gospel of John Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding feast. He became mentor to twelve disciples with whom he had a close, intimate relationship; and he was followed by a larger group of unnamed men and women. After Jesus’ death, his disciples could not forget the warmth of his friendship and his dedication to the greater good. They refused to let his memory die.
No, Jesus was not crazy. He was a mature, mentally healthy person. And—I dare say—he was a prophet sent by God.
~ Richard Russell
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