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The Resistance Prays

November 15, 2018
By Rev. Kaci Clark-Porter

Today's Top Story
Yesterday, President Trump threw his support behind a substantial rewrite of the nation’s prison and sentencing laws, opening a potential path to enacting the most significant criminal justice overhaul in a generation. - via the New York Times.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me." Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?" And the king will answer them, "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me." - Matthew 25:34-40 (NRSV)
Thanks for Justice Toward 'The Least of These'
“The least of these.” We in the church talk about them a lot, especially around the holidays. With Thanksgiving only a week away faith communities, non-profit groups, and even private businesses are busy bundling up turkeys, boxed stuffing, pies, cans of cranberry sauce, yams, and green beans into food packages for “the least of these.” We open our fellowship halls and welcome the stranger for a holiday lunch; we hand over paper cups filled with water to Turkey Trotters; we donate winter coats to growing schoolchildren. Feed the hungry. Welcome the stranger. Clothe the naked. Offer the thirsty something to drink. This we can do. This we’re prepared for. This is the kind of stuff people want to volunteer for. But caring for the captive? Where does that fit into the holiday season?
These familiar lines from Matthew’s gospel appear in a larger account sometimes called “The Last Judgment” or “The Sheep and the Goats” or the “I’d-Rather-Preach-from-the-Old-Testament.” Apart from hellfire-and-brimstone types, this is nobody’s favorite story because it both troubles and humiliates us. Sure, we’d do all those things if we knew it was Jesus, but unfortunately the judgment is based on how we treat the dispossessed, the criminal, and the ones whose faces we never see but who are nevertheless part of our sacred family. 
In this season of thanksgiving; in these days when gratitude is my prayer; I give thanks for the bipartisan effort that has gone into this legislation. I’m grateful that judges will have the opportunity to show a deeper compassion and a more expansive justice, especially when it comes to sentencing. I’m grateful this bill will lead to fewer incarcerations; fewer children without fathers and mothers, sisters and brothers; and fewer futures cut short by nonviolent crimes.
Within Matthew’s gospel, this text is Jesus’s final speech before the Passion narrative begins - the story in which he himself becomes one the despised goats, a criminal damned by the state, destined for death. And so, with these final words - both troublesome and humiliating - we come face-to-face with the knowledge that when it comes to “the least of these,” it’s Jesus all along.
Get educated about this criminal justice bill.
Midst the teeming cities’ millions, witness to God’s boundless love,
Reaching for each system’s lost ones, seeking justice with each move;
Grant us courage, strength and patience to contend with vicious power,
Lead us forward in the faith that gives us hope in testing’s hour. 
- Paul R. Gregory, 1985

When “testing’s hour” comes, O God, may we not retreat, but trust that you are leading us forward, bidding us to see your face in the face of each person who is being labeled, harassed, excluded, hurt, insulted, incarcerated, deported. Remind us again and again - as long as it takes - that your final judgment is not eternal fear but universal compassion, for love is all that truly lasts. Amen.
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