"May the Lord bless Onesiphorus and all his family, because he visited me and encouraged me often. His visits revived me like a breath of fresh air, and he was never ashamed of my being in jail." - 2 Timothy 1:16
As many people know, the stigma and alienation of incarceration remains even after the prison sentence has been served. That's a particular concern for the U.S., which is only 5% of the world population, but harbors 25% of the world's prisoners.
It's even more of a concern for African Americans, who are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of white Americans. According to recent studies on Disparities in Drug Sentencing, 5 times as many whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites.
There are a variety of factors that contribute to a person's likelihood of being incarcerated. Race, class and zip code are high among them.
Everyone behind bars isn't a degenerate. Some have made horrific choices; others have succumbed to horrific circumstances.
The charges that resulted in the Apostle Paul's incarceration were quite grave: Jewish apostate; Roman defector. Yet, Onesiphorus dares to eagerly search until he finds Paul at the place of Paul's last imprisonment in Rome. Then, while so many other ‘Good Christians' were abandoning Paul, Onesiphorus laid his personal reputation and the well-being of his family on the line by constantly visiting Paul in jail with food and words of encouragement.
Onesiphorus could hardly have known that his visits to Paul in that dark, damp jail cell were actually helping to inspire the premiere theologian of the Christian Church.
But no one really knows just how much possibility and potential are locked behind prison bars.
God, help us to look for you and to find you, even in the places of imprisonment. Amen.
Kenneth L. Samuel is Pastor of Victory for the World Church, Stone Mountain, Georgia.