Yesterday, I was sent to prison
I am discontent with Jesus…again.
Yesterday, I went to jail. I had to go to jail. Not because I was sent there by a human judge, but because I was sent there by Jesus. I HAD to go.
You see, in my Disciple Bible Study class a few months ago, I was struck in a new way by a passage I’ve read a 1,000 times. (This is what we mean when we say that studying the Bible is a means of Grace…God is always revealing Himself to us if we would simply open ourselves to the Scriptures).
“‘And when did we see you in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'” (Matthew 25:39-40)
What struck me is that Jesus calls those in prison ‘his brothers.’ As a Living Proof Disciple, they should also be ‘my brothers.’ Jesus commanded us to visit our brothers in prison. It was time for me to push my spiritual comfort zone. So I went to jail yesterday.
I went to Kentucky State Reformatory with Scott Dickens, a member of our church who has been serving faithfully and quietly for three years in a beautiful little ministry called Malachi Dads. This ministry works with imprisoned dads who want to figure out how to change their lives and be good fathers, even from prison. This is an intense, challenging, faith-based ministry in which the inmate receives no incentive, no reduced sentence, no benefit ‘inside.’ These are men who are truly seeking a way to be transformed, and they have chosen Christ as their guide. In other words, these are my brothers…and I need to visit them.
If there ever is a ‘least of these,’ these men are they. Living in the most oppressive, scary, and lonely place one can imagine…a place where you keep to yourself, you don’t get involved in a fellow human being’s troubles for simple survival…a place where following Jesus’ teachings to love your neighbor and turn the other cheek could mean a visit to the infirmary or worse…this small band of men are desperate to figure out how to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. It makes the challenges of my faith seem like a cake walk.
I listened to their stories. There is a real-ness to these stories that I rarely see in the white-washed world of ‘church’ today. They are cautiously vulnerable to one another, and yet glimpses of the kingdom shine through as I hear fellow brothers strive to comfort, help and pray for each other. They open their tiny, torn up, ragged bibles and search for Scriptures to share as they encourage their brothers. In a strange sort of way, although these incarcerated men have all the time in the world, they really don’t. There is a feeling of urgency as they innately sense that transformation can’t happen unless they become vulnerable, even here.
I sat next to a murderer. But he is my brother. My brother! My brother who is so guilt-ridden that he won’t let himself hear Jesus say to him that he is so dearly loved, that he is forgiven. He punishes himself far more than the justice system. He knows he must pay the consequences, but the real pain is believing that he is not worthy of any love…especially God’s. We preach and teach every Sunday that God’s grace is not dependent on what we do…that Jesus died for us while we were yet sinners….but I guess that is easier for us to accept for ourselves when our biggest crimes are often a few lies, drinking too much, or ignoring the homeless man.
But if there is any meaning to what Jesus did on the cross, that grace MUST extend even to the murderer. So, put yourself in my shoes…what would you tell him of God’s unconditional love? How would you convince him? How would you show him? What I did, seemed so little, but it changed me. I began to see him not as an inmate, but as a brother.
So, how can I leave my brothers here? Forgotten by society, ignored by the church, alone to figure it out for themselves, destined to fail again. These are whom Jesus came to seek out, those whom he died for – the lost, the lonely, the desperate, the broken, the imprisoned. If the church is called to do anything, this is it.
And the church is there. A precious, few faithful men are there every Wednesday night to teach, guide, pray and disciple these brothers of ours. Many of these men also come on Thursday nights to worship with these brothers who lead the music themselves and try to bring the light of Christ into the darkest of places. They desperatly need help. They need others to know their ministry. They need men who are willing to be sent by Jesus to prison. They need churches to be a place where our brothers can come once they get out to continue the hard work of transformation. Is your church willing to put an arm around these, our brothers? Maybe Jesus is tapping a few of you on the shoulder to join him to disciple His brothers, or at least to worship with them. At the very least, maybe we can support those who do go to prison for Jesus.
On the long, lonely walk out of the prison I asked our leader, “What is your most pressing need right now?”
He pointed out the inmates’ dilapidated Bibles. He said that these men are hungry for the Bible, and dreams that he had some Life Application Bibles that they could use.
I asked, “How many do you need?”
Twelve? Really? His dream right now is only twelve bibles? Seriously? About $400.
If you want to help our brothers behind bars…well, you know what to do.