While we tend to focus on punishing law-breakers, what about a long-term solution -restoration?
IT’S WORTH CONSIDERING
If you’re looking for the Saturday news stories I used to post, they may or may not return, depending on the response (or lack thereof) I get to last Saturday’s post. If you missed it, please click on the link. Based on the fact that thus far, I have received $0.00, it looks like I will be eliminating my Saturday posts permanently. I will be pleased to resume when I receive the financial help I desperately need.
When the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus, they wanted her to be stoned for her violation of the Law of Moses. Jesus responded by saying, “Let him among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” This quickly dispersed the crowd. With her accusers gone, Jesus refuses to condemn her. Instead, he commands her to bring her days of living in sin to an end. The Pharisees were all about condemning law breakers. Jesus was all about restoration. His intention was not to condemn the behavior by punishing the guilty. His focus was on the damage sin was causing to the individual and those around her.
The fact that the Pharisees walked away showed that they were in no position to be throwing stones at anyone. Their world was based on lifting themselves up in the eyes of the people by putting others down. They prided themselves in keeping the law, down to the smallest point, but their “righteousness” was all superficial. Deep inside, their hearts were far from God.
Jesus’ message to the people, including the Pharisees, was that we all should treat others with the same mercy and grace that God has shown to us. We are to love as God has loved us. God wants us to be more concerned with the restoration of a wayward soul than we are in his or her punishment. Many of Jesus’ parables taught this. He didn’t punish the wayward sheep that had wandered off. He rejoiced when it had been found and returned to the fold.
AS I SEE IT
Today, I’d like to apply this principle to a group of law-breakers most people don’t think much about-the men and women living behind bars-prisoners in federal, state, or local “correctional institutions.” For the last couple of years, much of my time has been spent in working with men at three nearby state prisons. It would be a gross understatement to say that it has been an eye-opening experience. As I have come to know these men, I have come to see real people, just like you and me.
While some of the men in these facilities are truly a danger to society, most are simply regular guys who made some bad decisions. But regardless of the seriousness of their mistakes, the point is that the goal should be restoration. They are clearly paying for what they have done. The time they spend incarcerated is their punishment. The problem is what happens to them (or doesn’t happen) while they’re doing their time.
Many people have a “lock ’em up and throw away the key” attitude, believing that keeping them off the streets and out of their neighborhoods is all that’s important. They see prisons as a way to warehouse delinquents, perverts, and scumbags so law-abiding people can live in safety. I understand this mentality. I used to think that way. The portrayal of prison life in movies and TV shows only perpetuates the stereotypes we have embraced.
Spend a little time with these men, and you soon realize that you are dealing with someone’s father, husband, or son, not just a number. You’re dealing with someone who, in many ways, isn’t all that different from you. When you hear their stories and begin to, in some way, feel the pain they are enduring, you come to understand how important and necessary restoration is. Most of these men will be back on the streets someday. For their sake and society’s sake, wouldn’t you want them to come out as a different person and not just a better criminal?
Most of the men we deal with grew up in a loveless environment. For them, a little love goes a long way. Wouldn’t you want them to leave their former life behind them? Wouldn’t you want their hearts to be full of love instead of hate or selfishness? Jesus made the point that he who has been forgiven most loves most (see Luke 7:40-43). The greater the forgiveness shown to these men, the greater their capacity to love.
This brings us back to Jesus and the woman caught in adultery. We are to have the same attitude that Jesus had, and He was all about restoration. The writer of Hebrews exhorts his readers (and us) to continue to remember those in prison as if they were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering (Heb. 13:3). Let’s remember this the next time we are faced with a choice-to condemn or to restore? Will we be like the Pharisees or like Jesus?
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ON THE LIGHTER SIDE
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