Friday, February 12, 2010

I was in prison and you visited me

Matthew 25 verses 31-46.

“But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne.

32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.

35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,you were doing it to me!’

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

This is such a powerful story. Us Universalists believe that everyone goes to heaven, that God loves us all unconditionally. I believe this, but Jesus is saying something interesting here. He is saying in so many words, "Who do you think you're kidding when you claim to love God but don't take care of your brothers and sisters? Are they not part of God's creation? Do you have so little regard for them that you ignore them or treat them with contempt and disdain and then claim to love God?

You have to get real and quit kidding yourself. God's creatures, God's creation, is right in front of you and you did nothing. You have missed the boat, failed to attend to what is really important in life, and now you are the poorer for it.

Unitarian Universalists believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person even those in prison, those who are strangers, the thirsty, hungry, naked, the sick. Let us pay attention to them not as the world does, and our society does, but as the Spirit of Life would have us do.

On behalf of the Brockport Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, I have been visiting an inmate at Wyoming Correctional Facility who is serving time for rape and burglary. The inmate's mother is a UU in Chicago and can't visit as often as she would like so she asked if someone from a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Western New York would visit with him. She worries about her son. I have met with her twice now when she has come to our area from Chicago to visit.

So when God asks me "When I was in prison did you visit me?" I can say, "Yes Lord, I know you because I visited you at Wyoming Correctional Facility where you were incarcerated for rape and burglary." The people in my congregation know you because they support me in this effort.

1 comment:

  1. You've hit it right on the head! Jesus asked us to do what we can to help the suffering, even those who may have done some bad things that landed them in prison, even the least.

    Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, verse 46 is an interpolation.

    There is just no way, after a very long story in which Jesus tried so hard to explain how much he empathizes with human suffering, so much so that he says we ought to think of even the "least" as if s/he were him...that he could turn right around and all in the same breath say, "Oh, but one day I'm going to be the direct cause of the worst suffering ever!"

    That makes no sense, does it?

    Well, the explanation for this contradictory statement is simple--Jesus never said it!!! It's an interpolation that was, in all likelihood, inserted by a Greek Christian scribe while making a copy of the text, totally distorting the message of the originally inspired autograph!

    Sadly, though, because these few verses that place Hell on Jesus' lips serve the interests of people who feel threatened by the real message of Jesus, that we ought to care for those in need, those suffering, even those who made big mistakes that landed them in jail, even the "least," they would have us believe that God is ultimately going to give up on most of humanity and let them have it big time! From there, it makes it easy for them to deceive believers into thinking it's not all that bad to get a head start on hurting people, or at least, not helping the hurting.

    I've actually written an entire book on this topic--Hell? No! Why You Can Be Certain There's No Such Place As Hell, (for anyone interested, you can get a free ecopy of Did Jesus Believe in Hell?, one of the most compelling chapters in my book at, and in it, I explain that Jesus was, indeed, consistent in his message that God cares for all, loves all, wants to heal all, and is never going to give up on anyone until the very last, lost sheep is saved.