Charles Wagner, founder of Gramazin, and his 24-year-old son Chad, co-founder, visited a convicted “bank robber” at a state penitentiary in western Pennsylvania on March 21, 2015.
A young man, who we will call “Peter”, owes his drug dealer $ 8,000. A gun is put to his head – “Give me my money or you are dead!” In fear for his life, desperate for money and the drugs he is addicted to, Peter robs four banks and a drug store in Bucks County Pennsylvania. One morning a few weeks later, the FBI and the local police arrest him at the home of his girlfriend’s parents. He is sentenced to a minimum of 5 years at a state penitentiary in western Pennsylvania.
Meanwhile, your pastor is delivering a sermon series on Matthew 25. In verse 36, he shares how Jesus has instructed His followers in this passage to visit prisoners while they are in prison. However, this is one of those moments when the pew-sitter knows more than Jesus and their pastor.
They say to themselves: “I can think of at least five reasons that I, even as a Christian, should never visit a prisoner in jail!”
- Peter doesn’t deserve mercy. He’s a bank robber! Who does that? I wouldn’t do that! None of my friends would do that! His actions that led him to prison are so alien to me that it dehumanizes him. He seems more like an animal. I cannot possibly minister to an animal. He earned this and now he must live with it. I judge him!
- There is no hope for Peter. Alright, so he isn’t an animal. However, there is no hope for him. Once a bank robber, always a bank robber. There is nothing that can be done to prevent him from once more donning a ski mask and walking into a bank after his release from prison. It is inevitable he will do it again. He is lost to a destructive life that he will never escape. I feel sorry for him.
- Peter is being rehabilitated by the state. The prison is another shining example of the effectiveness of government. There is hope because our tax dollars are at work. I’m sure Peter is receiving outstanding rehabilitation in the prison. There are probably all kinds of wonderful secular programs to help Peter rebuild his life and the authorities have a game plan to turn him into an ideal citizen. I’m sure his fellow prisoners are encouraging him to better himself, helping him grow and heal.
- Other Christians are visiting Peter. I’m sure some other Christian is visiting him. A friend or family member. There must be someone. Aren’t there prison ministries? I’m sure such ministries are fully staffed with committed volunteers who faithfully visit prisoners like Peter on a regular basis and skillfully make a difference in their lives. That’s a relief to my conscience – I’m too busy! I’ve got too many things going on in my life to visit any prisoner in jail.
- I’ll be killed or pick up some horrific disease. I’m not going anywhere near Peter’s prison! I will probably be attacked in some manner. I might pick up a disease of some kind. Maybe there will be a prison riot while I’m there. Maybe I’ll be mistaken as a prisoner and I’ll never get out again. No, I’ll just say a prayer for Peter and hope Jesus ministers to him behind that frightening barbed wire.
Yup. We know more than Jesus on this issue. Visiting prisoners in 2015 AD is so much different than it was in 30 AD. If Jesus were here now, He wouldn’t tell us to visit prisoners. He wouldn’t tell us that Peter deserves mercy. He understands we are better than Peter. He too would say there is no hope for Peter. Jesus would tell us that state programs and not His love will change Peter’s life. He would understand we are too busy to visit prisoners. He would tell us to be so afraid of prisons that we should stay far away from them.
“Hey, pastor. It’s about time to rethink Matthew 25:36! You shouldn’t be asking me to visit prisoners. Quaint but no longer applicable anymore!”
I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.