“I was in prison and you visited me” is a mark of Jesus’ followers (Matthew 25:34-46). The Social Justice Network provides this resource to help individuals and congregations grapple with what these words mean.
Archbishop Rowan Williams notes that these words convey two messages: “that Jesus is already with those in prison, as he is with all who live in loneliness (including the loneliness of self-reproach or self-hatred); and that he is waiting for us there.” (UK Prison Week 2010)
The number of people in prison in Australia (both sentenced and unsentenced) is increasing faster than population growth. At the same time, rates for most categories of offending are decreasing. These trends require us to pause and reflect on what is happening in our society and especially, who is most likely to be found in prison.
The great majority of prisoners come from impoverished circumstances, often experiencing multiple disadvantage. However, most attention is given to the few high profile, even very wealthy, individuals who engage equally high profile legal advisers to secure their freedom.
In 1988, the (then) Australian Council of Churches issued a paper called Prison, the last Resort, which is available from the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA). How far have the churches come since then in grappling with criminal justice and prison issues in our society? How do we understand the text of Matthew 25:36 — “I was in prison and you visited me”? As Christians, what are we called to do in response to incarceration trends since 1988? What can we do? Does it matter what we do, or say?
Matthew 25:40 continues, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”I encourage you to creatively use this resource to engage congregations and others, thus raising awareness of the alarming facts about prisons in Australia. Let us all advocate for a more just society.
Tara Curlewis, General Secretary.