It continues to surprise me how extremely relevant Scripture is to the lives of prisoners. Whether I’m reading an Old Testament prophet or the epistles of St. Paul, the circumstances of the imprisoned are never far from any given page. Listening to the readings in prison, as Paul speaks about the chains he bears for the sake of the Gospel or how many times he found himself imprisoned, adds a whole new depth to the readings.
Earlier this week, as my sister and I drove to prison for a bible study, I read the Gospel passage aloud that we were going to discuss. It was something I’ve heard and read dozens of times and yet my eyes were opening in a new way, something that has happened innumerable times since I started going into the prison. The passage for the upcoming Solemnity of Jesus, King of the Universe, was about Jesus on the cross and the conversation He had with the good and bad thief.
The rulers sneered at Jesus and said, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is the chosen one, the Christ of God.” Even the soldiers jeered at him. As they approached to offer him wine they called out,
“If you are King of the Jews, save yourself.” Above him there was an inscription that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”Luke 23: 35-43
I could hardly believe it when I read the passage to my sister. How striking. A passage about how Jesus, the sinless one, who enters into our lives and takes on our sin, dying amongst criminals who were sentenced justly for their crimes. What would it be like to hear this as a prisoner?
The men didn’t really enter into the passage in that way, as far as I saw. They didn’t propose questions or voice ponderings about how relatable the passage was based on their location and situation. However, that doesn’t really matter because I saw it in a new way.
It reminded me that the prisoner in their deepest sorrow or at the moment of their death has immediately beside them the King of the Universe, who unites Himself so thoroughly to humanity that He shares our darkest trials. Whether the prison is external or internal, Christ seeks to grant us true freedom. At every moment of every day, we need only look beside us to see Christ present and ask Him for the grace to enter more fully into His Kingdom. A kingdom that isn’t some distant, ethereal thing but is something to which we already belong, something living, something among us, even (or perhaps particularly) among criminals.