Day 30 – Devotional & Discussion April 8, 2014

Mark 5:1-20

Jesus and the disciples are confronted with a man who is not in his right mind.  How has the community dealt with this man?  How does Jesus deal with him?  

In this case, the community has criminalized the man while Jesus addresses his illness and treats him.   In the book, “Prisons of the Mind”, prison abolitionist Amanda Pustlinik observes that prisons are used as a “default asylum” for many individuals with mental illness.  She asks, “”why do governmental units choose to spend billions of dollars a year to concentrate people with serious illnesses in a system designed to punish intentional law-breaking, when doing so matches neither the putative purposes of that system nor most effectively addresses the issues posed by that population?”

Consistent with her assessment, almost 50% of the inmates at Cook County Jail have some kind of mental illness.  Why do you think we have chosen incarceration over treatment for these people?  Why do you think Jesus acts differently from the community?  What do you think Jesus would say about our current treatment of people with mental illness? 

In 2002, the US Supreme Court declared that the execution of the mentally ill or those with cognitive disabilities was unconstitutional.  However, there are still people at risk.  It all depends on how “mental retardation” (the jargon still used in the judicial system) is defined.  Warren Hill was scheduled for execution July 15, 2013, in Georgia.  Despite having an IQ of 70, Mr. Hill’s lawyers were unable to meet Georgia’s high threshold to prove his cognitive disability “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  He was not executed as planned after his lawyers challenged it on other grounds and he was given a reprieve.   As of February 17, 2014, his case was still being reviewed by the Georgia Supreme Court.



  1. Two years ago, Chicago closed all it’s neighborhood mental health clinics in a cost cutting move, including the one in our community that served the Spanish-speaking population. It was yet another indication that we choose incarceration over treatment. I believe Jesus would say “shame on you”.

  2. I love Jesus’ interaction with the man. How he communicates that the Lord was at work, even being merciful to the man. Fascinating that this healing made the onlookers afraid, pleading with Jesus to leave! Maybe because the pigs were lost. Maybe because of his power over the demons? I agree that Jesus would say “shame on you.” This got me thinking of Henri Nouwen’s decision to leave a prestigious teaching post at Harvard to work with the mentally disabled. It also got me thinking about Scot McKnight’s recent blog post about how our expectations of church are often incredibly selfish. When I think of the mentally disable, and especially the mentally disabled that are incarcerated, it is so easy to want to distance myself from them, to not have to be bothered by them. I too quickly want my life, my church to be nice, comfortable, easy. And yet there is Nouwen, like Jesus, jumping right in and working toward healing. To reach out to those incarcerated with mental difficulties sounds very sacrificial to me. Jesus-like.

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