Who is my neighbor in a pandemic?

Please pray for inmates being released early because of the Corona Virus, especially the “elderly, chronically ill, terminally ill, and the most vulnerable.” Men and women who already suffer from low self-esteem are being told that they are too old or too sick, even for prison. Casting them out because they are likely to be carriers reminds me of how they were treated in Jesus ’day: “Unclean.”.

Because these men and women are the most likely to be infected by the Corona Virus, an early release is considered the best way to protect the other prisoners, and the corrections officers that work with them. But I wonder, where will they go, what will they do, how will they survive on “the street?” Have they had time to make plans? Most of these inmates have been incarcerated for many years. Do they still have family and friends who can take them in, feed them, and care for them? For the chronically or critically ill, where will they get the treatment they need, with the hospitals crowded with Corona Virus patients? I fear that many will end up homeless, living on the street, sleeping in crowded shelters, and feeling they were better off in jail. At least they had a roof over their head, three meals a day, and a place to sleep

From USA Today; Fearing that the coronavirus could wreak havoc once inside densely packed jails, local officials across the country quietly began releasing some of their most vulnerable, including the elderly and chronically ill. The goal, said National Sheriffs’ Association president Sheriff Daron Hall, was to reduce the risk both to prisoners and officers, while freeing up space to quarantine other inmates who may become infected. Dozens set free  early this month have now become hundreds, as state and local governments have accelerated their efforts in recent weeks to guard prisoners and  staff, against the spread of the deadly virus.

7In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, the group of senators led by Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., urged the government to move the elderly and terminally ill from the 175,000 in custody.

“Conditions in prison do not afford the opportunity for protection, and prisons often create the ideal environment for contagion.,” the senators wrote. “It is important that consistent with the law and taking into account public safety and health concerns, that the most vulnerable inmates are released or transferred to home confinement..”

The senators suggested “home confinement” for these released inmates. Whose homes did they have in mind? Having been incarcerated, they have no homes of their own, no family or friends to welcome them in There will be many with no place to go. Who would take them in? Already stigmatized as ”criminals,” now they are suspected of carrying the virus as well. If they have been incarcerated for many years, they may have become “institutionalized,” ill equipped to cope with the world outside the prison And if they are old and sick, that will make it even harder for them to cope. Is there anything we can do as Christians to help these people? Can we be “neighbors” to them? I admit it is hard to think of what we could do. “Social distancing” and avoiding infection takes priority. But still…

 A man asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” In  reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, “When I return, I will pay for any extra expense you may have. ’Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” Luke 10:28-37

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  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.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

*****

matt-and-chrisI raise my own financial support for my ministry, and it is the primary income for my wife and me. If you are interested in contributing you can send checks to:

Rev. Matt Kantrowitz
Isaiah 61 Ministries
PO Box 461
Goffstown, NH 03045

You can email me for more information at mmkantrowitz@gmail.com.

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