Immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met [Jesus]. He lived among the tombs, and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain. – Mark 5:2-3 (NRSVUE)
“A2. Three County Fairgrounds. 25-year-old male. Medical Emergency.” The emergency scanner toned out its computerized call to the hip hop festival at my town’s fairgrounds. Police had a man in custody experiencing “excited delirium.” They had administered two tranquilizer injections. Now a medical emergency, the A2 ambulance needed to take him to the hospital. “Excited delirium?” I had to look it up.
Opposed by the American Medical Association, “excited delirium” lacks objective definition and is sometimes used to justify excessive force. Rather than a precise medical diagnosis, excited delirium describes behavior beyond law enforcement’s control—like a mental health crisis or severe drug reaction. Sometimes it’s cover for racism. To treat it, first responders inject a tranquilizer. For Elijah McClain’s excited delirium, they used an overdose of Ketamine.
When police, mental health, and racism intersect, excited delirium can be a terminal diagnosis. In reality, excited delirium isn’t a diagnosis: it’s violent, fear-based dehumanization and demonization.
Maybe Mark 5’s “demoniac” was diagnosed with excited delirium. Feared for who he was, he couldn’t be controlled, no chain could bind him. Demonized and dehumanized, he was banished from the living. But Jesus approached him with compassion, not control; listening to his needs, offering relief instead of restraint, peace instead of tranquilizers. Seen for who he was, healed and unbound, he was restored to community. Jesus offers life-giving, lifesaving care in a world delirious with lethal fear.
Banish that which causes us to violently demonize and dehumanize others. Inject compassion when we are possessed by fear. May your love and grace be our first response. Amen.
Chris Mereschuk is an Unsettled Pastor in the Southern New England Conference with a call to transitional ministry.