“This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain.”
Mark 5:3 NIV
“When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid.”
Mark 5:15 NIV
The rate of incarceration for black men has increased in Memphis in the last 50 years. Unemployment among African Americans in Shelby County has actually gotten much worse since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. It’s really paradoxical because even though educational attainment has increased job opportunities have decreased. It’s possible that the high unemployment rate for African Americans is associated with the war on drugs because African Americans have been disproportionately targeted for arrest and conviction for drug possession leading to criminal records that make African Americans less employable.
Putting black men in chains is not the answer. It’s amazing when white people in the suburbs become addicted to opioids it’s an epidemic that needs medical intervention but when drugs are in the black community it’s a crime deserving of taking people’s freedom away by locking them up.
Jesus came upon a man that had been locked up over and over again by his community because he was possessed, not in possession, by demons. People who are addicted to drugs often act like they are possessed. They are under the control of a controlled substance.
Jesus asked him what his name was. I can imagine he sounded like James Brown when he personified heroin:
I’m a world of power and all know it’s true
Use me once and you’ll know it, too
I can make a mere schoolboy forget his books
I can make a world-famous beauty neglect her looks
I can make a good man forsake his wife
Send a greedy man to prison for the rest of his life
I can make a man forsake his country and flag
Make a girl sell her body for a five-dollar bag
So, be you Italian, Jewish, Black or Mex
I can make the most virile of men forget their sex
So now, no, my man, you must, you know, do your best
To keep up your habit until your arrest
Now the police have taken you from under my wing
Do you think they dare defy me, I who am king
Now, you must lie in that county jail
Jesus calls these demonic spirits out of this possessed and incarcerated man. When the demons come out of the man they go into a herd of pigs that jump over a cliff. It destabilizes the economy. The residents are alarmed to hear that their way of trade has been disrupted but the more disturbing thing was when they saw the man who had been locked up unchained! They were afraid! They were so afraid they asked Jesus to leave the region! But why?
- He was sitting down. This man who had been locked away because he had been perceived as a threat when he was possessed. They were not expecting to see him reintegrated back into society. Black men who have a possession problem seem less threatening locked away. Can you imagine 2 million reformed black men reintegrated back into society? That’s a powerful picture for me but a scary picture for others.
- He was clothed. Meaning he was empowered. Before he was naked and cutting himself. Now he’s covered. The other disciples gave him clothes so that he would have some dignity. In order to help those who’ve been incarcerated to make it back we have to cover them until they can cover themselves.
- He was in his right mind. If we are going to help those who’ve been locked away we are going to have to start with their minds. Romans 12:2 says do not be conformed to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. Discipleship and education are primary of we are going to liberate these men who have been locked away.
When we go about the business of liberating men who have been incarcerated some people will not want us in their region because the privatization of prisons and the economy of the judicial system will be disrupted. When we really start doing the work of Jesus Christ some people might not want your church in their region. If politicians feel comfortable grinning at the table with you then you might not be setting the captives free you might be holding the chains.
You have sent us to set the captives free. Don’t let us become like the people who grew comfortable locking away those who have a possession problem. Help us to come up with ways to medically and spiritually intervene for all people who have drug problems. From the people who use drugs to the people who sell drugs they need our help. Some need medical intervention and others need a way to make a living for their families that is legal. Use us to set the captives free.
In Jesus’ Name,