This week, our Parish Lenten program focused on listening to and acting on God’s Word. “Think of a time when you yourself were a ‘doer of the word.’ How were you affirmed or challenged by ‘doing’ what you had heard in the Scriptures?” the program booklet asked.
I was the last to share in the group of nine and related how I had felt challenged when I befriended a women who had been sentenced to life in prison for murder.
“When did this happen?” asked one woman.
“It was in the mid-eighties,” I told her.
“There were crazy people even then,” she commented.
“Mental illness has been around a long time,” I replied.
“Now you can befriend the Uber driver,” said another woman, referring to a recent shooting in western Michigan.
Scripture challenges me in several ways, including trying to see people as God does, responding to the invitation I hear in Scripture and standing up for my views.
I don’t condone acts of violence, but I do try to see the person who commits those acts as someone’s child who is loved by God just as much as I am.
At my friend Jim’s funeral, a woman approached me and shared how Jim had visited her son in prison. She had been so grateful and felt it had made a difference to her son. He was in college at the time, and had been caught selling prescription pain pills he had gotten for a sports injury. After he had served his sentence, Jim had even hired him to help out around the parish. In the years since, she said, her son had gone back to school and was now doing fine.
I knew of her son’s situation and that Jim had visited him, because Jim had asked me to accompany him. Visiting people in prison was not something Jim had done before, but I had. He said he would feel more comfortable having me there, so I went.
Hearing this part of the story seemed to surprise the woman.
“Are you a probation officer?” she asked.
“No,” I replied, somewhat mystified by the question.
“A social worker?” she asked next.
“No,” I replied again.
“Then why have you visited people in prison?”
“Because it is in the Bible,” I explained, and then quoted Matthew 25:36, “…I was in prison and you visited me.”
She seemed unfamiliar with this verse.
I suggested that now that she knew how much Jim’s visit had helped her son, she might consider visiting other people’s sons in prison. She protested that her son was not like other people in prison. “He just…” she started to rationalize, but I stopped her. “Your son did something wrong, got caught and went to jail. He is exactly like the other people in prison,” I said. She then excused herself and walked away.
I am both affirmed and challenged by doing what Scripture invites me to do.