Often before I go in I’ll have time to talk to the Catholic nun who also serves at the jail. We can compare notes on who we’ve met with and what we’ve been observing. Both of us have noticed a decline in participation compared to this time last year. Currently we are in a bit of a “dry” season. Because of this I am now more likely to wait in the common area where the rest of the guys are when they are released for their rec. time. Almost everyone lines up by one of the pay phones to make a call to family or friends. Both before and after the study this week I chatted with a few guy who were out for program and met some guys “through the door” because they were not out for program. I also use this time to get to know the staff a bit more.
I met with “A” and “E” on Monday night. “E” is a fairy new arrival to the unit. In general he was in good spirits but had some anxiety regarding the potential for conflict in the unit. From my perspective things are certainly much better than they were six moths ago, but there is always the potential for another round of escalating violence.
“A” had been punishing himself this week. He took down all the pictures that he’d had in his cell and had been pretty hard on himself for being so wishy-washy with God. This discussion made a natural segue into our scripture.
Hosea 6:1-6 (NKJV)
6 Come, and let us return to the Lord;
For He has torn, but He will heal us;
He has stricken, but He will bind us up.
2 After two days He will revive us;
On the third day He will raise us up,
That we may live in His sight.
3 Let us know,
Let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord.
His going forth is established as the morning;
He will come to us like the rain,
Like the latter and former rain to the earth.
4 “O Ephraim, what shall I do to you?
O Judah, what shall I do to you?
For your faithfulness is like a morning cloud,
And like the early dew it goes away.
5 Therefore I have hewn them by the prophets,
I have slain them by the words of My mouth;
And your judgments are like light that goes forth.
6 For I desire mercy and not sacrifice,
And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.
I often ask the guys to explain the scripture in their own words. How would you describe this passage to someone back in the neighborhood? The paraphrase of verse 1 was, “God tore us a new one, but He will heal us. We’re pretty beat up, but God will will patch us up.”
In verse 4 the prophet criticizes the the peoples’ lack of faithfulness. They start out looking good, but then it disappears. We live in an area that has a season of dense fog each morning by noon it has completely burned off and we are left with clear skies and no hint that there was ever any fog. This also seems to be the pattern of Jailhouse Jesus who is easy to follow as long as you are locked up.
Previously on this blog someone made the following comment:
I worked in a prison for four years. That’s the pattern I saw also. Holy, holy, holy, and then it’s time to GO. “See you later, Jesus!”
Twice a week, we’d take inmates to the bus station for the ride home. The roadside close to the station is littered with prison bibles thrown out the window by guys fresh out of prison looking for sex, a quick high, and a way to get back to the life that got them into prison in the first place. Many of them will be loaded before the bus stops, and almost half will be back in prison in a year or two. What fools they be.
Jesus doesn’t move. He’ll be right there at the chaplain’s office where He was last time.
We see a similar pattern described by the Old Testament prophets. The people start out looking faithful, but then begin following after other things. It takes a major crisis to get the attention of the people before they turn back to God.
Some people feel like they can buy God’s affection by sacrifice. “A” confessed that his taking down of his pictures and beating himself up this past week was his version of sacrifice that he was using to try and buy God’s favor.
But God has already taken care of the sacrifice. He delights in giving mercy to His people, and He delights in His people giving mercy to others. So we had a discussion about how do you do mercy while you are incarcerated. Does mercy extend just to your friends? What about rival gang members, or the really hard question, does mercy extend to the COs?
“A” was encouraged knowing that God had already taken care of the sacrifice, and that what He wanted now was relationship with his people, and that He wanted us to receive mercy and to extend mercy to one another.