Church of the Damascus Road (1)
The Light of the World
Mar 26, 2017
By Rev. Norm Arnold, pastor at Living Stones, inside the walls of the Washington State Prison for men in Shelton, WA
You are the light of the world… Mt. 5:14
There is always a backstory to how people get to the point where society feels justified in sending someone to prison. In the case of Billy, it started in an urban neighborhood in a single room apartment. There were a couple of old mattresses on the floor. There was no light, no food, and no peace. Billy was number eight in the line of children from his mom. He remembers his younger brother crying to be fed until the tears ceased, but the screams continued. The tears had washed and marked his little brother’s face in lines of red. The only light Billy remembers is the spotlight of the police helicopter as it searched for another who broke society’s rules. That police light and the butane lighter used so “mom could get her sugar.”
Billy grew up in a Latino neighborhood, though he is white. He felt he didn’t fit and was an outcast. At the age of twelve Billy was on his own and on the street. Billy’s story is not unique, especially in the prison, and yet far removed from what society might consider typical. Billy is a smart one. He finished degrees and held a good job, but his early years and the anger eventually overtook him.
There is so much darkness, so much evil, so much fear in the world. Billy’s sentence was/is long. He entered prison in his early twenties and will exit as a man in his forties. Billy has spent a lot of time working out his anger - three years in solitary confinement and ten years in close custody.
Jesus said “I am the light of the world.” He helped Billy find forgiveness, reconciliation, and acceptance. Now Billy helps others in need. He’s not paying penance, because no one can do that. He is using the light shown to him to gift others with the wisdom of his experience.
Jesus said “you are the light,” meaning you and I. The “light” of Jesus is in us and we are encouraged to share it. In prison, the light of Jesus that shines is a profound contrast to the darkness. Men are often persecuted for their willingness to let Jesus’ light shine through them. Billy, who had walked through evil and has seen the darkness up close and personally, knows that it is only in Jesus that we are the light. He ignores the distractions and remains committed to the light and serving others. The light that moves in, through, and with us moves in the world as we shine for Jesus.
Billy has been washed in baptismal waters, is marked with the cross of Christ, and has been welcomed into a new family, the family of God. Like Billy, 258 others joined God’s family at Living Stones Prison Congregation this past year. God is shining through the darkness providing forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope to all who receive.
Billy has been given a bright future because he is God’s child. May all who have been declared a child of God know the hope of God’s calling.