It’s a Southern, slightly crude expression, but gets to the heart of so many issues. “I don’t have a dog in that fight,” is often used to indicate a lack of interest, or, perhaps more importantly, a lack of responsibility and/or care. Slightly more intellectual, but, on the same plane is the acronym NIMBY, or “Not in my backyard.” This indicates that we really don’t care as long as it doesn’t personally affect us.
We are pretty good "Bible Quoters," particularly the Old Testament, when we want to be left alone, or not have our values questioned. One of my favorites is Genesis 4:9. After having killed his brother Abel, God asks Cain about Abel's whereabouts. “I don’t know,” he responds. "AM I MY BROTHER’S KEEPER (Caps mine)?” Aw yes, practically the oldest trick in the book; denying responsibility for others in our community.
Then, along comes Jesus, well-meaning, but meddlesome. He has the audacity, in the gospel of Matthew, to equate himself directly with the least, the lost, the downtrodden, and the persecuted among us. “Truly I tell you, just as you did (or did not) do it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did (or did not) do it to me (Mt. 25:40; 45).”
I like Cain’s response a lot—it’s so easy. Yet, Jesus gets to the heart of the gospel: one loves God by loving neighbor, or in the NRSV translation of the verse above, “members of my family.”
Matthew 25 speaks of prisoners specifically, so I want to talk about prisons for a bit. Some of you know that I have been involved in some prison ministry, visiting those who are incarcerated. I’m not even going to mention that the average inmate spends about 22.5 hours in their cell daily, a far cry from the “country club” atmosphere we’ve been shown. Rather, I want to lift up some basic human needs and rights that are being eroded.
First, the commissary. I get that there must be a secure way for goods to get into the prison, Yet, the prison “store” charges full retail and above for everyday items. A TV costing $79 at Wal-Mart will cost an inmate, and/or his/her family about twice that in the commissary. Oh, and that’s after a third party for-profit company receives and disburses the funds, charging about 7.5% to do so. But wait! There’s more.
Last year, MODOC stopped allowing inmates to receive mail. That’s right, unbelievable as it seems. Rather, a third party, for-profit (see a trend here?) company in Tampa, FL, you know the “Free State of FL,” now receives the mail, scans it, and then e-sends it to inmates, that is, when they get around to it. Any personal touch in something as intimate as reading a letter has been stripped away.
Not to be outdone, this year, MODOC has struck again by disallowing books to be sent into the prison from commercial vendors. I can no longer order a devotional book from Amazon and have it shipped into a facility in MO. Ostensibly, it’s about stemming the flow of contraband into the camps, but, really? I’m sure there is a “guy” at Amazon stuffing fentanyl into the package. MODOC should be looking at the “mules” commonly known as staff, who bring the vast majority of contraband into the camps for profit (there’s that word again).
So now, if I want to send a devotional book to an inmate, he has to find out how much it will cost through the prison vendor; I’m sure full retail, ask me for the money to be deposited, after about 7.5% is taken off the top, then order the book Make no mistake about it, MODOC is vitally interested in private for-profit vendors who have a built in revenue stream. Can you say “Patronage?"
What would Cain say? Probably what most of us say, “mhhh.” What would Jesus say? I’ll let you stew on that one.
Maybe prisons are on my mind this week because our work Sunday is from Philippians, a letter Paul wrote while in prison awaiting trial. He sought and found hope in the most dire circumstances. Where will our inmates find their hope today?
See you Sunday,