Brian Stevenson says that we need to talk about an injustice, but we, as a nation, are reluctant to have this much needed conversation. We refuse to deal with an injustice that has poisoned our collective spirt. And, he says, we will not be well; we will not be whole until we commit to truth and reconciliation and speak to each other about how race and poverty affect our criminal justice system.
It is an injustice that such a disproportionate number of poor, African Americans are incarcerated. The fact that among the countries of the world, the United States of America has the highest percentage of its population incarcerated and that we are the only country to hand down life sentences to convicted offenders as young as thirteen years old is an indication that something is very wrong. When one third of black, American men are or have been in the prison system, we desperately need to have a conversation about an injustice.
Like Stevenson I believe that we will not be judged by our technology, or by our accumulation of wealth and power. I believe that we be judged on the basis of how we treated the poor and disenfranchised among us.
I am led to this conviction by the words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew chapter 25. He told his followers a story about that final judgment at end of the world when the Son of Man has all peoples of the world gathered before him and he separates them into the “sheep and the goats,” dividing them - the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. The standard for this judgment is not their financial security; it is not their business acumen, or their collective wealth and power. The standard used for this judgment is this: Did you feed me when I was hungry? Did you give me something to drink when I was thirsty? Did you invite me into your home when I was a stranger? Did you clothe me when I was naked? Did you care for me when I was sick? Did you visit me when I was in prison?
Both groups – the sheep and the goats – are surprised by this standard. When did we see you hungry, thirsty, a sick, naked, stranger in prison? Jesus replies, ‘Whatever you did (or did not do) for the very least among you, you did (or did not do) for me.’