Last Sunday, November 5, I attended the closing ceremony of the 44th Kairos at Virginia Correctional Center for Women (VCCW). Kairos is an interdenominational prison ministry that seeks to bring the love of Christ to inmates in prisons around the world. I had heard that it was similar to Cursillo in that it involves an intense weekend of sharing, learning, and prayer in small groups of people of the same gender, culminating in a public closing ceremony wherein the weekend’s participants give testimony to how the weekend impacted their lives. The difference is that it all takes place in a prison. (The other difference is that Cursillo is Catholic rather than interdenominational, but that’s not important right now.)
The closing testimonies of the women who participated were inspiring and touching. It was wonderful to see how Christ had entered or reentered their lives to heal them from profoundly deep wounds and give them the strength to live each day in the joy of God’s love regardless of their present circumstances. But one woman’s testimony stuck with me more than all the others. Her testimony was also the shortest.
She said that Jesus was the son of God and could have done anything he wanted, including coming down from the cross, but he didn’t. She had always known that but the meaning of it had never really sunk in with her until that Kairos weekend. “He was innocent,” she said, “but he didn’t come down. She started to cry and stepped down from the lectern with nothing more to say. We can only speculate on the thoughts that were running through her head at the time. Here is what she said means to me.
He was innocent.
This fact alone seemed to have real significance for this middle-aged female inmate. She did not elaborate but I couldn’t help comparing her to the Good Thief in the Gospel who made the same observation to his buddy on the other cross next to Jesus. [Quote from Gospel]. This woman seemed to see the same relationship between herself, guilty of a crime and justly punished, and Christ, an innocent man willingly accepting the punishment merited by the guilty. She was blown away by the senselessness of accepting punishment one did not deserve. “Why did he do that?” she asked. Why, indeed.
For the first time I asked myself that question. I had always thought I knew the answer: Jesus took the punishment for our sins upon himself out of love for us. Yeah, but WHY? I’m not second-guessing God’s motives, mind you. I just saying that answer is too simple. It doesn’t reveal the deeper meaning. It doesn’t tell us what good that does us here in the present. Jesus never did anything just to show off. Every miracle, sign, and act of Jesus recorded in the Gospels teaches a lesson or reveals something essential to the relationship between God and his children.
In this particular case, I think Jesus was telling us, the guilty, that he is with us in our suffering. Though he himself is blameless, he suffers with us. At that moment on the Cross of Calvary, Jesus did not want to be comfortable with the innocent and virtuous. He wanted to be with the guilty and bear our suffering alongside us. It was this act of love that this woman in the VCCW was appreciating for the first time and she made me appreciate it in a way I never had before.