Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jesus was in jail, did you visit him?

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
   37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
   40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
   41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
   44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
   45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Matthew 25:34-35

We all agree deeds done in service of the Master are done for him. Often we do things for others that go unnoticed and unrewarded by earthly standards, but we have the promise of God that he sees everything and he knows the attitude of our heart, so we need not fear any labor going unpaid.
Have you wondered why, in the passage in Matthew, Jesus mentions those in prison specifically? Some have proposed he means only those disciples imprisoned for sharing the gospel, others take the position that Jesus is speaking very broadly of the nation Israel. All are up for discussion, but for matters of this conversation the point is, Jesus mentions visiting "prisoners" as a good deed and speaks of it in his parable as a way to describe love for him.

An inmate gets a visit from his daughter- photo courtesy, Children of Inmates

In  Hebrews 13,  the author writes,
"Remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies."
It is difficult to remember those in prison if you never hear their stories, never pray for them, and never visit.
     It's been said that the only people with a concern for the prisoner are those that have been behind bars themselves or who have a family member or loved one there. While that may be true, it hardly excuses us.
When I was called by the chaplain of the local jail and asked if I was interested in helping with a Bible study for the women there, I thought of the verses in Matthew and Hebrews. I knew there were great needs, and equally great blessings to be had, yet I was reticent.
I felt like I had no way to connect with the women there. I have never been in jail, or even arrested. I have committed crimes and not gotten caught, that's true. Images of angry, crazy women sitting in their cells waiting to throw something awful at me as I walked by in my clothes that "stink of freedom" played in my head.

     It took me months to send in my background check and then I agreed only after the chaplain said they had no one else to do it, that the woman doing it now was moving to North Carolina in a month.... so,
I went.
 It was amazing, not at all what I expected or feared.  They were in a room where we all met together, they were there because they wanted to be, and they were all very sweet. So far, it's the best church I have been to.

     Yes, they are on the edge of tears all the time, and they have so many problems, but they are so hungry for the words of hope and mercy and forgiveness and a clean start. You have no idea how good it is to hear,  "I will put your sins as far from me as the east is from the west" when you have majorly blown it. They love much because they have been forgiven much, and that's something I can relate to. They don't need to feel connected to you, they are happy to see a new smiling face, so eager to pray and have you pray for their family. They know why you are there and they expect you to talk about God to them. It's like opening  the front door on Halloween with a giant bowl of candy. They want what you have to offer.

      I know everyone isn't called to this kind of ministry, it probably takes someone who understands broken people and who wants to do one thing, and that is share the grace and mercy of Jesus.  We aren't called to fix the justice system, we have one purpose- share the message of hope found in Jesus Christ.
They are very needy, but we have what they need most- the beautiful One with the scarred hands, who loves us all and came to set us free.

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