Today: Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Treating Prisoners    (9/2/2018 1)

I’ve only ever had one prison experience.  Thankfully I was there on a very brief visit with some Christian ministers so I went home later in the day.  Staying in as a prisoner would have been a very different experience indeed.  In fact I find it difficult to imagine what a stretch in prison would actually feel like.

Many prisons around the world have a terrible reputation.  They can be dehumanising places of darkness.  The most recent report on some of Britain’s prisons makes shocking reading - there is squalor, violence and they can be insanitary and unsafe.  They do not sound like places where justice is done, prisoners are helped or lives are turned round.

Prisons in Bible times were probably not pleasant places either.  John the Baptist was gaoled for criticising the king, then beheaded at the whim of a woman.  Jesus was arrested and beaten in custody within an inch of his life.

But Jesus also spoke some telling words about prisons and prisoners.  There will be a day of reckoning, he says, on which God will divide the nations.  Some will be on one side, some on the other.  And the test?  How they have treated Jesus.  “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me into your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25, verses 35&36).  When people asked when they had done these things or not done them, the King’s reply was, “Whenever you did this for one of the least important of these who are members of my family, you did it for me!” (verse 40).

That very searching parable suggests not only that our actions towards those most in need are deeply significant, but that whole communities and nations may be judged by the same standard.  How do you, and how does your community, treat the hungry, the stranger, the poor, the sick, the prisoner?  How do we treat the most needy in society?

Being a Christian means hearing those words of Jesus and remembering that he claimed to be “chosen to bring good news to the poor” (Luke 4, verse 18).  Should we not then challenge governments when they cut services for the poor while they cut taxes for the rich, or speak out when immigrants and refugees are attacked as ‘strangers’, when prisoners are not treated decently or when children suffer or the abused don’t receive justice?

Different political parties may tackle these issues in different ways, but the Christian principles which should govern our governments and all our own actions are all too clear.  

I don’t think my one visit to prison counts for much, but there are plenty of other challenging areas to review…  And especially we need to think carefully about how we treat prisoners - for Jesus’ sake.


Jesus, you came to set all kinds of prisoners free.  Help us, and our society, and those who are prisoners today, to find the care and deep freedom you offer.

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