Forgotten neighbors

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” -Mark 12:28 (NIV)

When Carl got the invitation, he didn't want to go. On some level, he figured the men incarcerated at the state correctional facility were there for good reason. They were getting what they deserved. But the one inviting him was very persistent. If you didn't know better, you might think he was bringing the invitation on behalf of someone else. So Carl made a conscious decision to place himself in an uncomfortable situation. Maybe by going once he could satisfy the request and be done with it.

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ " -Mark 12:29-30 (NIV)

Across the large room, filled with 200 or so inmates, Carl locked eyes with one of the men. They made their way toward each other and struck up a conversation. Carl had rehearsed this moment in his mind. He knew how "these guys" were. He was locked and loaded with a half-dozen scriptures that would surely help this one straighten out his life if he was smart enough to listen.

"The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment greater than these.” -Mark 12:31 (NIV)

The Spirit had other plans. Kevin started to talk, and Carl had no choice but to listen. Then he started to care. The two became fast friends. It's hard to say who has benefited more from the friendship, but it's obvious that God has been honored, the Kingdom built up, and many encouraged through the strength these two men have given one another in Christ. Kevin finished his time as a guest of the state and is doing well. He has a family, a good job, and a story of redemption he loves to tell.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. -Matthew 25:35-36 (NIV)

Jesus made a point of working at the margins of the culture he walked in. He was criticized for hanging around tax collectors, prostitutes, and lepers. It wasn't that he thought them any more deserving of His attention, just that he knew they were no less deserving. Who do we find at our margins? The poor, the homeless, the imprisoned, the addicted, the handicapped, the mentally ill. What would happen if we were to reach out to them in the name of Jesus?

Hear Carl's story in the July podcast: Your influence may extend farther than you imagined. Heads up, eyes open.

Scott Thompson