Is it just me, or are things a bit wacky in our world?
I was flying back from Albequerque not too long ago, and was required, of course, to pass through airline security — you know, our government’s attempt to prevent terrorist activities within our airspace. They made me empty my pockets, drop my keys and cellphone into a basket along with the fifty seven cents in change I possessed, then had me remove my shoes and watch and then run the whole mess through the x-ray machines. As I stood there in my socks, one hand holding up my pants because they also took away my belt, I then had to pass through the full body scanner. Once through, they made me open my carry-on luggage, inspected everything therein, and took away my tweezers (after all, I might try to threaten the captain with a harsh eyebrow thinning if he didn’t divert the plane to Pakistan or Syria, or God forbid, Cleveland).
After that thorough invasion reminiscent of my 1972 draft physical, they let me board the plane. Because my connecting flight had been late, they had bumped me up to first class, you know, 4 more inches of leg room and a meal. Seated there shortly after take-off, they brought my meal. A good meal. With linen napkins. And a nice, sharp metal steak knife. Hmmmm. I guess terrorists don’t really need to bring their own weapons, just buy a first class ticket and they’ll give you one.
Well, on my latest excursion, which took me to San Francisco (no one was wearing flowers in their hair, I was a bit disappointed), I took the tour of Alcatraz, that now defunct federal prison where such bastions of American culture as Al Capone, Machine Gun Kelly and the Birdman did time for their misdeeds. As they say, it’s a nice place to visit, but . . . Anyway, I saw a copy of the original rules for prisoners, letting them know in no uncertain terms just what they could expect while doing their time there. I was struck by rule number 5, which read, “You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention, anything else you get is a privilege”. This seemed adequate to me for a prisoner. Basic needs are met, even if they are, well, extremely basic. I mean, it wasn’t the most comfortable place to live.
I got to thinking about all this, and realized there are a whole lot of people living no better, and sometimes even worse, than those prisoners had to live. In fact, a large part of our population live like Alcatraz residents. They are entitled to food, so we give them food cards, but try to find a major chain grocery store in our inner cities, a place where they can get fresh fruit and veggies, and where what they buy doesn’t come with inflated prices. They are entitled to shelter. As long as it’s in run down tenements and dangerous apartment buildings in crime ridden neighborhoods. And we give them medical attention. Not nearly as acessible as it is for the rest of us, and in conditions where the mortality rate for children is much higher than that for affluent families. And anything else the get is a privilege — like the soup kitchens when their stomachs are empty and the homeless shelters when the winter winds are bitter.
Jesus said one of the reasons he came was to set the prisoners free, meaning those who are unjustly imprisoned. Have you been to our inner cities lately? They’re full of prisoners. Prisoners to poverty, racism and an economic and educational system skewed heavily against them. They, too, are unjustly imprisoned, and Christ came to set them free. As Christians, we are the Body of Christ, called to continue his ministry according to his calling. It’s time we took his call seriously.
It’s time we set the prisoners free.