WHEN MATTHEW 25 BECOMES HARD
On January 11th of this year my cousin Kevin, who I grew up with and love like a bother, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in Colorado after pleading guilty to a crime that happened several years earlier. From the outset, I have to say that I agree that Kevin deserves to be in prison for what he did and he agrees.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about a visit I made with Kevin a few months before the incident. Then, Kevin was living the life. He was an oil drilling consultant who made well into six figures, running huge oil drilling rigs. When I visited him, he was working just outside Jal, New Mexico. I was very familiar with Jal, since I had been invited to preach during their Summer Preaching Series on Wednesday nights.
As you can imagine, Kevin had led a pretty rough life, even by oil patch standards. His body was covered with tattoos, including one across his back that says, “Kill Me If You Can.” Somehow, I had perceived that Kevin needed me to talk to him about God and living a faithful life. I listened to that still small voice.
A few months after my visit, Kevin had lost his job, he was flat broke, using drugs and traveling the country with a girlfriend. At a rest stop in Glenwood Springs, Colorado, he and his sidekick needed transportation and decided to take a car. He followed a girl into the ladies’ room and told her to give him her keys. He said he had no intention to hurt her. He was carrying a knife in his back pocket. He was surprised when the girl’s sister came in and promptly kicked him in the throat. Kevin said he was knocked to the ground and heard his knife clatter on the floor. He reached back and picked it up and the sister continued the attack. Kevin told the story with no small amount of admiration for the girl from Ohio, for defending her sister. He said when he put his hands up to defend himself the girl received a stab wound in the center of her breast plate that was one centimeter deep and one-centimeter long.
Kevin escaped with his girlfriend and thought they had gotten away with the incident. That is, until police found a pair of Kevin’s jeans, discarded miles away from the scene. The jeans had both the victims blood, as well as Kevin’s, since he had cut himself in the struggle.
Kevin said that he could have gotten a lighter sentence if he had plead guilty to attempted murder. However, he said that he never intended to hurt, much less kill anyone, so he plead guilty to a charge that carried a twenty year sentence. Kevin said he has to serve at least fifteen, and he will be in his seventies before he can get out. However, he agrees that he deserves to be where he is.
When I read a newspaper article about his sentencing, Kevin insisted on apologizing to the sisters and insisted it was not to get a lighter sentence.
Two Saturdays ago, I was traveling home from Montana through Colorado. I was scheduled to preach at two congregations, Holly and Lamar Church Of Christ, the next day. I filed the paperwork to visit Kevin in the Bent County Correctional Institution, in Los Animas, Colorado. I had arranged for a preacher involved in prison ministry to visit him once a month. For three hours I sat in the visitation area and talked with my cousin, heart to heart as if we were kids again. I told him he doesn’t have to just mark time in prison, he can actually accomplish something. However, I encouraged him to get his spiritual life in order. I told him that his reputation for being a bad guy can be turned around. Through Christ, he can be a positive influence to the people he is around.
Almost every week I preach about Matthew 25, one of Jesus’s final instructions to his disciples. The easy part is talking about taking care of people’s physical needs, especially after a disaster. The hard part of that scripture is to visit someone in prison, especially after they committed a horrific crime. But I know I can’t just parse the words of Christ and follow just the ones that are easy. Here are my instructions from the Master:
“34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
37 Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
38 When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
39 Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
NOTE: Kevin is a pseudonym.