Jail Break!

Can you believe this statistic? The April 2 issue of TIME magazine ran a column that reported on prisoner-to-population ratios in some of the developed countries of the world. Japan, for example, has 63 incarcerated individuals for every 100,000 citizens. In Germany there are 90 prisoners for every 100,000. France has 96, South Korea 97 and Britain has 153 prisoners per 100,000 of their population. And what about the United States? In this nation for every 100,000 citizens we have 760 prisoners! Am I the only one that finds that number astounding? In this hemisphere Mexico has 208 per 100,000 and Brazil 242—but we have 760? Someone has calculated that while American has 5% of the world’s population, we make up 25% of the world’s incarcerated. To the place that in 2011 California spent $5.7 billion on its University of California system and its state colleges , but $9.6 billion on its prisons. In fact since 1980 California has built a single college campus but 21 prisons—with a per college student cost of $8,667 per year and a per prisoner cost of $45,006 a year. (TIME, 4-2-12, p 18) Social scientists suggest numerous explanations for the high U.S. incarceration statistics. Some say it is America’s “Wild West culture” and tough legal system. Others note that in reality in 1980 we had only 150 prisoners per 100,000 citizens—so what could be driving the numbers so high? These analysts conclude it must the ramped up “war on drugs” with its get-tough clean-the-streets policies. Who knows for certain? What is sure is that in the realm of the spiritual our incarceration rate is 100%. The ancient prophet Isaiah described “the prison house” of sin in which every inhabitant has been “jailed.” But quick on the heels of that abysmal statistic comes his stunning promise of the Messiah whose mission will be “to bring out prisoners from the prison, those who sit in darkness from the prison house” (Isaiah 42:7). We gather on this glorious spring Sabbath to commemorate (to celebrate) the jail break that Jesus on the cross achieved. No matter the ball and chain of that particular sin that binds you and me (and each of us knows it all too well)—whatever the habit, the guilt, the past that enchains our lives, our minds—the One who died for us at Calvary still declares, “If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). Which is why today we can approach His cross in holy communion with joyful penitence—“penitence” because our hearts grieve and repent of the sins that cost Christ His life and death on our behalf, and “joyful” because there is no greater joy than walking out of the prison house that has held you. The incarceration rate is 100% for us sinners. But the liberation rate is 100% for those who walk through the open prison door to the Savior. And good news—the cell door is open today!

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