Life on the Margins: Blessed are the Prisoners
Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy,
for surely your reward is great in heaven.
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. ~ Hebrews 13:1-3
When all the prisoners of the land
are crushed under foot,
when human rights are perverted
in the presence of the Most High,
when one’s case is subverted
—does the Lord not see it? ~ Lamentations 3:34-36
The ELCA is prompted to speak and to act because so many cries of suffering and despair emerge from the criminal justice system — from victims, the incarcerated, their families, communities, those wrongly convicted, they who work in the system — and have not been heard. ~ ELCA Social Statement on the Church and Criminal Justice
How we treat prisoners is an emotional issue. But there is much more to it than simply believing that someone who commits a crime needs to go to prison.
The statistics are staggering in this country. We have more incarcerated people per capita in the United States than in any other country in the world.
Do we really have more criminals per capita than any country? And how much has all this incarceration done to deter crime?
There are more facts related to mass incarceration than a devotional blog can contain, so as I begin, I urge you to read about some of the staggering problems our criminal justice system has. You can find statistics here: https://www.sentencingproject.org/criminal-justice-facts/ and here: https://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/pie2020.html . Of important note is how race and mass incarceration are unhappily entwined with each other.
For Jesus, facts were not the issue. In his time as now, people were imprisoned unjustly. And those who were imprisoned for a crime were mistreated just as they often are now.
The issue for Jesus was people. People mattered to him, no matter who they were or what they did. Enemies mattered. Sick people mattered. Women mattered. Immigrants mattered.
Jesus himself became a prisoner. So...as we heard earlier in a passage from Matthew, how we treat the prisoner is how we treat Jesus.
Questions for thought: Read through some of the statistics in the included links. Had you heard any of them before? Which ones surprise you the most?
Pray: Ask God to open the hearts and minds of those in the criminal justice system to work toward more equitable treatment of prisoners.