"Why do you come here?" That was one of the first questions of the night on last night's addictions class at the jail. The inmate was in the class for the first time and would be released from the jail the next morning. The question seemed sincere. Although my response to his inquiry was a little lengthy one of the main answers to his question was, "because you guys may listen."
There is a hunger in the jail that is very unusual in other places in our society. In jail people to begin to ponder things they would never otherwise think about. They consider that their lives are not perfect and they may possibly need to learn some things. They seem to have ears to hear when others outside of the jail, who are stuffed with the little pleasures of this world, simply have not the time nor the desire for anything greater. While the rest of the world seems to be feasting on the junk food of life, those in the jails seem to be given opportunity to hunger for something different. It is possible that this hunger resonates in this environment because access to the junk food of life (less satisfying pleasures) is significantly limited. During this forced fast from such things the divinely placed hunger (which resides in all of us) to be ultimately satisfied is allowed to ring more clearly.
One of the other inmates who has gotten out of the jail, and has been meeting in a small men's group at the church for a month now, was quick to be able to point out this situation as well. After he spent a few months in the jail he agrees there is a unique hunger for God that is experienced by many in the jail.
Go to those who will come. That seems to be the point of the below passage in Luke. This passage appears to demonstrate a divine and intense intolerance for those who are so satiated with the simple things in life that they no longer hunger for the greatest thing in life.
14:16 But he said to him, "A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. 14:17 And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, 'Come, for everything is now ready.' 14:18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, 'I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.' 14:19 And another said, 'I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.' 14:20 And another said, 'I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.' 14:21 So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, 'Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.' 14:22 And the servant said, 'Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.' 14:23 And the master said to the servant, 'Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 14:24 For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.'"
Many places and resources in our society can quickly diagnose problem behaviors such as trouble with drugs, alcohol, greed, gambling, and sex issues. These issues are not remotely difficult to point out as bad. These dangers are well marked and those who encounter them generally have a fair idea as to what they're getting themselves into. There are however more subtle dangers that are not nearly as well marked. These are the "little" dangers such as being so satisfied with your health, home, money, family, and hobbies that your heart is no longer hungry for the greatest good.
While society is somewhat guarded against those big dangers (as we should be) we all too often are left susceptible to the flank attack. Jesus wasn't messing around when he said, (Mark 10:25) "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God."
That is a statement that should give us cause for concern. The average citizen in America is richer than the overwhelming majority of the rest of the world. Thank goodness Jesus also said, (Mark 10:27) "With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God."
(Originally posted in May of 2008)