Greetings all, here is your e-votional for the week…
“Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long. Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish. Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them who keeps faith for ever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The Lord will reign for ever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!”
The Lord sets the prisoners free. The Lord, it seems, wouldn’t win many elections in our country if this were true. No one is much interested in setting the prisoners free. More likely, we are interested in feeling safe and getting our pound of flesh for whatever crime has been committed. This past week I was speaking with the prison chaplain to the county jail in Van Buren, John Clayton Sr., who pointed out some hard truths to me regarding our penal system. The county jail is for people in limbo. It is supposed to be a short term facility for people moving on to serve a full sentence elsewhere, for people serving short sentences for minor infractions or for people awaiting trial. It is the latter group that got my attention. He said that sometimes people could sit in jail for over a year awaiting trial simply because they did not have the resources to make bail. That means these people would be incarcerated, often losing their jobs, their vehicles, their homes, even their families, without ever having been convicted of anything. They are in jail because they don’t have enough money to get out of jail. And while it might be easy for us to say, “they should have thought about that before they committed their crime,” we should remember that in America you are innocent until proven guilty.
Our Scriptures have a lot to say about the prisoner, and what they often say is that we should never ignore or forsake those living at that low level on the social ladder. Jesus tells us that we should visit the prisoner, and the Psalmist sings that the Lord sets them free. As Christians this is not a group we are empowered to simply forget. While it doesn’t mean that we must put ourselves in harm’s way to do this work, it also doesn’t mean that we can claim the millions of our fellow citizens who are currently in prison are someone else’s problem. They aren’t. As followers of Jesus we have a holy obligation to consider their plight. Never forget that Jesus himself was a prisoner; that Paul wrote some of his most powerful letters from prison, and that the prisoner is ever near the heart of God. Being a follower of Jesus is not just about our own comfort and Scripture does not exist simply to provide us succor. Following Jesus means doing some hard things. It means loving your enemy. It means praying for those who persecute you. It means forsaking the comforts of this world for the treasure of the next. And it most certainly means caring for the prisoner.
Prayer: Holy God, please help us to care for the prisoner. Today we pray for the millions in our country, and the tens of million around the world, who are in prison. We pray for mercy for those who committed crimes, and that they may repent of their sins. We pray for those who are wrongfully imprisoned and in need of justice. We pray for those who have repaid their debt, been released from prison, but cannot find a home or job. We ask that you would help and empower us to be of service where we may to those in prison. We thank you for the love you have given us and we pray that will be shown to all your children, those who are free and those who are imprisoned. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.