And how this should provoke us to get rid of prisoner abuse… and why it doesn’t.
Mark 14.65 • Matthew 26.67-68 • Luke 22.63-65 • John 18.22-23
I’d already mentioned Jesus getting slapped by one of his guards:
John 18.22-23 KWL
- 22 Once he said these things, one of the bystanding underlings gave Jesus a slap,
- saying, “You answer the head priest this way?”
- 23 Jesus answered him, “If I speak evil, testify about the evil. If I speak good, why rough me up?”
The other gospels likewise tell of how the people in charge of him began to abuse him. In Mark it was after he’d been found guilty. But in both Matthew and Luke, it was before his actual trial before the Judean senate. They didn’t care to wait for a trial; they’d already judged him guilty themselves.
This sort of behavior offends many people nowadays. Irritatingly, not all.
Our laws have declared prisoner abuse illegal. Rightly so. Even when a person is guilty, we’re not to punish ’em in ways they’ve not been properly sentenced to. The judge sentences a person to five years, and that person should determine community service or prison, hard labor or solitary confinement. Not the sheriff, nor the warden. Separation of powers, y’know.
Of course there are a number of people who take a lot of perverse glee in the idea of convicts experiencing worse in prison. Jokes about prison rape are a little too commonplace, considering this is a crime that needs to be exterminated. But some people love the idea of murderers and rapists experiencing especially rough treatment in prison. Serves ’em right, they figure. Thing is, violence doesn’t discriminate. Someone incarcerated for fraud or theft can be attacked, same as someone in prison for lesser crimes. People won’t make rape jokes when it’s a beloved family member serving time. And definitely won’t find it amusing if it were them who, thanks to some mixup, found themselves in a holding cell with some angry, rapey thugs.
To hear such people talk, if it were up to them, we’d go right back to the bad old days of beating confessions out of suspects. Some of these folks even claim to be Christian. So how come Jesus’s experience at the hands of his accusers, never convinced ’em otherwise? Never made ’em realize “innocent till proven guilty” is always the way to treat suspects?
Lots of reasons. But most of them have their origin in gracelessness.
“We all deserve worse.”
One of the more common questions people have about God is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” The study of theodicy is about the quest for answers to that question.
And you’re gonna find one of the more common answers is this one: “There’s no such thing as a truly good person.
It’s the underlying idea behind the arguments of Job’s friends. It’s based on the idea of reciprocity, or karma: Our sins outweigh our good deeds. We all merit punishment. We all deserve worse.
So if some suspect gets smacked around, or some convict gets assaulted, that’s the go-to attitude of many people: “Okay, that’s not good. But hey, we all deserve worse.”
But what about Jesus of Nazareth?
Did Jesus deserve worse? Did Jesus’s sins outweigh his good deeds? When the people holding onto him started spitting on him, or covering his face so they could punch him and play the “A real prophet would know who hit him” game, did he merit any of that?
Not in the slightest. Jesus has God’s nature,
These folks who are fond of saying, “We all deserve worse” will admit Jesus definitely didn’t deserve worse. His guards were entirely in the wrong for abusing him. But rather than learn the lesson from this example—don’t abuse prisoners!—they figure Jesus is a colossal exception to the rule. He didn’t deserve worse. But everyone else does. So go right ahead and smack other suspects around. They may be innocent of this crime, but they probably have it coming for something they did. Everybody does.
This is why it took centuries for Christians to finally realize prisoners have such things as human rights. And why some Americans figure prisoners only have human rights if they happen to be American. If they’re American, give ’em a speedy trial, convict ’em or let ’em go. If they’re not—if we picked ’em up on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan—well, we can leave ’em in Guantanamo Bay indefinitely without trial. After all they’re not American, and not even on American soil. And are probably guilty anyway. And hey: We all deserve worse.
Like I said, gracelessness.
Like Job’s friends, people figure the suffering in the world is God’s way of thumping us for our sins, or toughening up our character. To their minds, God is just as graceless as they are, and looks at the suffering in the world as something he uses for his own secret purposes—not as something he wants to utterly do away with. Nor something he wants us, as we seek his kingdom first,
Part of Jesus’s passion.
The Law has no overt command against abusing suspects or prisoners. That’s why Jesus’s guards felt it was okay to smack him around. Some rabbis nowadays stretch the command to be extra-careful about sin while at war
The basis for the idea of treating prisoners humanely comes from the New Testament: From Jesus’s story of the sheep and goats, where visiting prisoners is commended;
Part of Jesus’s suffering was how he had to suffer injustice at the hands of his people, who didn’t study the Law to understand the Lawgiver, so it stands to reason they didn’t act like him. Now, are we gonna learn from their bad example? Or repeat it?