“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—I was hungry and you gave me no meal, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was homeless and you gave me no bed, I was shivering and you gave me no clothes, Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’
Seriously? Jesus said that? I understand the giving people food and shelter. I even understand visiting. But prison? That may be out of my comfort zone.
And for the most part it still is. I've had zero opportunities to visit someone in prison. Zero. I have however visited some in jail. Some in a high security home for juveniles but never a prison. And as a detective recently reminded me, there is a vast difference between someone who is in a jail waiting for bail or trial, knowing that there is possibly and end in the near future, and those who are in prison, feeling that their release is a lifetime away (and indeed it may actually be).
Why does Jesus ask us to do this? Is it because the justice system back then falsely imprisoned so many people that this was an act of justice rather than an act of pastoral care? If so, does that release us from the obligation to visit those in prison?
I tend to think that Jesus said this less because of justice or pastoral care and more to get us to act in compassion. Regardless of why someone ended up in prison, regardless of if someone was falsely imprisoned, regardless of what the person was like before or in prison, we are called to love them. Jesus said he'd go after the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. Meaning that Jesus cares even about these people that, let's face it, don't really get a lot of care.
So how are we to do this visitation thing? Well for those of us who live in a bubble, this can get difficult. It is really hard to visit someone in prison unless you are related to them, are on a visitation list for them, or are on the cleared clergy list to visit. Right now I'm not on any list.
There are however ways you can help. There is a ministry called Kairos prison ministry that holds retreats for inmates to help them grow in a stronger relationship with God. They also hold retreats for family members of the inmates as well. This is one way to "do visitation."
If for some reason, it is not convenient for you, the same ministry ask for people to pray for the weekend while the retreat is going on. As a church we have written letters of encouragement and sent them along with those who are leading the retreats. I'm told that their faces light up to know that strangers are thinking of them... and that they care.
If you want more information, go to http://mykairos.org/index.html
Until Everyone Hears,