Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I'll be leading the prison 12-step group I work with this week. My partner and friend, Phyllis, a Lutheran pastor, is going to an AA breakfast, so I will be on my own, though a prison chaplain will be in the gathering with me. Our step this week is number eight, "I will make a list of all persons I've harmed, and became willing to make amends for it". This is a tall order. It is the first step that deals with "the outside world" and potentially unsympathetic or down-right vindictive people, or even in the best-case scenario, good people who will need to mete out consequences. Just think about it in your own life...what if suddenly, you got a summons in the mail telling you you had to appear in a court among all the people you had harmed in your life. Could you imagine anything more daunting, if you sincerely desired to make thing right? I need to carefully meditate on all of the aspects of this step before I go inside. What does this mean to me? To the incarcerated?

I was just reading in the Old Testament, and amends there meant death usually. If you cursed God, your parents, or injured another human being, you were faced with being stoned to death by the congregation. If you injured an animal or property, it was eye for eye, tooth for tooth, you were forced to suffer the same loss. Our court systems today decide what reparations must be made to the state or government, and my ladies are already making amends there. But is there not more to this? Is it simply pay up and move on? Jesus said to his followers, if you bring a gift to the Temple and there remember your brother has something against you, leave immediately, be reconciled, and then come back and offer your gift to God. He said further that even being angry with someone unnecessarily is being a murderer in your heart. There is more owed here than just giving back or doing time.

I have always loved the story of Zaccheus. There is a cute kid's song about him, "Zaccheus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he....he climbed up in the sycamore tree....the Lord for him to see" something ridiculous like that. Actually, Zaccheus was a tax collector, a CHIEF tax collector. You could not get more scum-baggy than that in Jesus' day. Being this is IRS season and we personally were compelled to pay over a thousand dollars back to them, I can understand how hated such a man could be. Plus he extorted money from people for his own well-being. So one day Jesus rides into town, and Zaccheus wants to see the superstar prophet from Galilee everyone's buzzing about. But he's short, and so he climbs a tree along the parade route and Jesus stops right under the tree. He tells Zaccheus to "come on down-I'm having diner with you today!" Zaccheus scurries down the tree in his excitement and promises to never extort money again. In fact, he promised to pay back four times what he had taken from people. Jesus said that today salvation had come to this house. Zaccheus didn't make amends to assuage his guilt, get something, win friends and influence people-his heart changed, and he had a clear understanding that doing what he did was wrong. He longed to please God and do the right thing because of that.

Motivation is everything, and a heart-change so necessary. A friend of mine who was more or less in hiding from the police, living a good life and a believer, began to realize that to do this step meant for her, turning herself into the police with a possible penalty of huge jail time. Her only motivation was to please God, even if the consequences caused her severe loss. She did do this and was exonerated. But there was no guarantee of that. And I tell myself, how often do I even think about making amends to God Himself? Is it not He that I rob, I injure and wound so often, extort because I owe my very life to Him? It should be an interesting Saturday group.


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