Freeing the prisoners
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
" Jesus (Luke 4:18-19)
This may surprise you " but many consider it a bit cheeky to use Luke 4:18 in a discussion about prisoners.
But let us dream a crazy dream for a moment. Wouldn't it be amazing if in jails across Australia, every prisoner could be freed in Jesus' way? Imagine them all discovering "the Lord's favour'. Imagine them becoming "free' in the deepest sense: free of what drove them to crime; free to be loved by God; freed in turn to love him and to serve others. Imagine them finding the kind of inner freedom that meant they did not need to be jailed any more.
It is cheeky, though, to borrow Jesus' words because the kinds of "prisoner' he spoke of were not exactly the same as modern prisoners. He spoke of people like John the Baptist " those thrown into dungeons by despots who did not like to be challenged. In contrast, we imprison people in an attempt to justly punish them for crime. Our prisons were invented as an attempt to punish more mercifully than in days past (when people were flogged, deported, or killed).
So technically, prisoners in the New Testament are not quite the same as ours. When the author to the Hebrews says "Remember the prisoners, as though you were in prison with them, and the mistreated, as though you yourselves were suffering bodily,' (Heb. 13:3), these people were likely imprisoned because their talk about Jesus inconvenienced someone (e.g. Acts 16:2-24; Rom. 16:7; Col. 4:3; 2 Tim. 1:8). They were more like what we would call "political prisoners' " probably including even those prisoners Jesus mentions in his famously hard word about failing to help them (Matt. 35:31-46). These prisoners were more like the kind of prisoner Jesus himself became.
But Christian people, including chaplains and those who work with prison ministries such as Karios (http://www.kairos.org.au) or Prison Fellowship Australia (http://www.pfi.org.au), cannot but help respond to modern prisoners. Even if we include more people under the category "prisoner' than was originally meant by Jesus or by the author of Hebrews, there are two strong reasons for applying Hebrews 13:3 to modern prisoners….
Click here to download the complete Social Issues briefing #82 - Freeing_the_prisoners in pdf format.