Spirit & Truth # 203
By Rev. Greg Smith
Jesus of Nazareth. Joseph, son of Jacob. Paul the Apostle. John the Evangelist. The Apostle Peter. John the Baptist. They all did time in jail. Some more, some less. Each of them knew the bite of chains, the pain of punishment, the darkness of the dungeon.
One day, each of us will stand before the Judge in a heavenly courtroom. To those whom God approves, Jesus will say, “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, 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 (Matthew 25:35-36).” From this, it is evident that Jesus had compassion for those in prison.
As I write this article, I’m sitting in a court room, waiting for my parishioner’s case. Some defendants have been brought into the courtroom with chains about their waists, wrists, and ankles. They anticipate additional prison time if convicted of their crimes, which were committed while in jail. Others stand to lose their freedom if they are convicted today. Each of them, at this moment, is fearful of the future. And each of them is a child of God.
Those who are on trial today know the potential for being forgotten once they enter the prison system. Friends forsake you. Family intends well, but visits are infrequent. Yet while society as a whole forgets these children of God, we must never forsake them.
Jesus puts prison visits on par with food, water, and clothing. Without these most basic needs being met, a person shrivels up and dies, either physically or spiritually. Christians who follow Jesus’ example must also be about sharing the same compassion that He shared, even with those who are easily forgotten or ignored. We need to consider and care for the needs of prisoners, the same as we would care for those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, or sick, especially during this holiday season, when loneliness and despair threaten to break the human spirit.
Do you know someone who is incarcerated right now? Why not send them a card, write a letter, or make a visit? It’s not as difficult as you might think. Actually, it’s quite rewarding. Once you do it, you’ll want to go back again and again. You’ll want to share the love of Jesus with those who need it most.
Frankly, visiting people in prison is not something that most Christians take seriously. We write inmates off and say they deserve it. But Jesus says that a lack of compassion on our part just might cause us to fail the final test. “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. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 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 (vv. 41-43).’”