Our next corporal work of mercy is one that has two different appellations though they both refer to the same virtue. It is about the corporal work of mercy invites us “to ransom the captive” or “to visit the prisoner.” Today in Nigeria, “to ransom the captive” could be a very sensitive issue, and may run the risk of equivocation in interpretation.
The truth is that our common experience of the ills of kidnaping may put us off to think about going “to ransom” those held captive by kidnappers. Remember the cherished position of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria on not paying ransom on those kidnapped especially when the captives are priests.
The Bishops have insisted that priests have been ransomed by the precious blood of Jesus, and therefore, there is no need pay ransom on ransom. Because of the above noted ambiguity, we are choosing to reflect on visitation to those in prison.
Generally, those in the prison are thought to be sinners, hooligans, criminals, societal miscreants, and so on. How come we are to visit such persons? Are those persons the kind of persons that Jesus invited us to visit at the prisons? Would such visit not embolden their likes who are still having their field day outside the prisons? Thus, it may sound strange to some persons to think about visiting those held at the prison because our simple human logic tells us they are suffering for their sins.
But Jesus demanded that of us (Matthew 25: 36). The truth is that, some prisoners, are guilty of the crimes for which they are convicted. And another truth is that, there are still others who are innocent of the crimes they are convicted. And the other truth is that prison or captivity may not necessarily be the physical prison. This third aspect gives added meaning to the “ransom the captive” notion of our reflection.
But first, let us talk about the physical prison. Yes, there, we find some who are criminals and some who are innocents. Our visitation calls us to make sure that the innocent is not held captive while the criminal gallivants in freedom. It is torturous to be in captivity when the criminal is free. Remember the story of Susanna in the scriptures; how two seductive and old hooligans turned their carnal plots against.
She was already sentenced to death, before a Daniel came to judgment (Daniel 13: 1-65). Daniel actually ransomed Susanna from the clutches of death. In the prisons there are many who are held in captivity for no just cause. In the prisons many likes of Susanna are found. It is our ransoming like Daniel that may set them free. Again, when we visit those in prison, we are to guarantee that those who are criminals are handled with the dignity of the human persons.
Though they may be criminals, they are humans. And they have to be treated with such dignity they deserve. They are created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1: 27; James 3: 9; Colossians 3: 9-10). When Jesus told the story of the missing sheep and coin, he said their owners left 99 of the rest to look for the single one that was missing (Luke 15: 3-10).
He crowned this story with that of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11ff). Jesus himself made it clear that he came for sinners (Luke 5: 32; 1 Timothy 1: 12-16). He thus, encouraged us to look out for sinners. Over and above all that, the time of incarceration is another golden opportunity for conversion. Our presence at the prisons may offer opportunities for conversion.
Let us try today.