Criminals and criminal activity make us angry!
Even those of us with strong views against capital punishment entertain second thoughts on the subject when we hear or read of heinous crimes. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, mankind seems to devise new and more dreadful ways to torture, maim and kill fellow human beings. Some days revenge sounds pretty good to us, even those of us who claim to follow the risen Christ.
Sometime that anger even rears its ugly head against those of us who work with criminals…again, even among those of the Christian faith. It is not uncommon for us to hear that prisoners do not deserve humane treatment. Those opinions will be expressed with the question, “How humanely did the criminal treat his/her victims?” The rationale seems to be that the person who commits an inhumane crime deserves inhumane treatment while incarcerated.
I was invited to discuss my book SWEET FREEDOM with members of a Christian book club that included some distinguished members, including a seminary professor. For those who are unfamiliar with my story, I joined hands with a wrongly convicted prisoner in a 9-year battle for his freedom. Even though the system wouldn’t budge, we knew---and we even proved---that Maurice Carter was innocent. He served 29 years for a crime he did not commit, and was never exonerated. He was granted a compassionate release due to a terminal illness. He enjoyed only three months of freedom. The book tells our story.
I felt like I was in enemy territory among this group of fellow believers, who challenged our belief in his innocence at every turn. One woman was so angry about the book or me or the story that she refused to speak, and stared straight ahead through the entire session! Crime, even when it’s wrongly perceived, can make us very angry.
When HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS lost its office space in downtown Muskegon many years ago, my immediate thought was to try to persuade one of the major downtown churches to give us a small room. We didn’t need much space, and we considered our work to be a ministry. The work of the church and our work with prisoners seemed like a good fit to me, as I made my presentation to the church’s Board of Trustees. But that wasn’t the feeling of one board member, who viewed our entire philosophy as being soft on crime and supportive of people who were behind bars for a reason and who deserved every bit of punishment they were getting. Our work, as he perceived it, made him angry. I left with my tail between my legs.
Contrast these thoughts of some of Jesus’ followers with his final words and deeds on the cross.
It boggles the mind to think that this young man, in the throes of pain and anguish that we cannot begin to imagine, took a moment to be kind to a thug… and not a wrongly convicted criminal like our Lord. This guy admitted to his crime, and admitted that he deserved crucifixion. Dr. Luke tells us that the man, one of two criminals flanking our savior on crosses, turned to Jesus and in his final moments quietly asked him to remember him when he came into his kingdom. And I can only imagine that Jesus was grimacing in the physical pain of this most cruel type of execution, the emotional pain of abandonment by family, friends and religious leaders, and that his voice was weak from exhaustion. Yet, he managed to issue these words of kindness, gentleness and compassion: I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.
What a message to the people with whom I work and chat on a daily basis…people who one corrections official referred to as “the worst of the worst.”
I like the words to the old Gaither hymn, “The cross made the difference for me.”
It made the difference for weeping and hurting parents and grandparents and spouses and children and siblings of prisoners. It made the difference to those who are angry, wounded, lonely and abandoned, yea, to ALL people behind bars. It made the difference to the mentally ill who landed in cells instead of proper institutions of care. It made the difference for those like Maurice who became terminally ill in prison, including many who never got out.
The author of Revelation promises that, because of today, God will wipe away every tear.
Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!