Skip to content

Jesus, Remember Me

Over a dozen guys showed up for bible study at the jail last week. At least half, I had never seen before. It was an enthusiastic bunch, and the conversation ran off in all kinds of directions. A reading from John 11 about the raising of Lazarus quickly morphed into a discussion of everything from the dead bodies that emerged from the tombs in Matthew’s account of the crucifixion to what happens when you die to the harrowing of hell. We also talked about zombies. So, you know, a fair amount of terrain covered.

With a group that large, it can be a challenge to manage the conversation. Like in all group settings, some voices can easily dominate while others remain silent. Near the end, I decided to create a space for those who hadn’t said anything to contribute. It could be on the theme of the day or anything at all. One guy, who hadn’t said a word all hour, spoke up immediately. His voice was quiet but strong.

“You know what my favourite bible verse is? Hebrews 13:3.” “Sorry, I don’t know it off the top of my head,” I admitted. He recited it for us:

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

He smiled, before continuing. “I read that to a guard in federal once. He was treating us like we were pieces of s***, like we were less than human. After I read him that, he was nicer to us.” There was a lot of nodding and mm-hmming around the circle. My heart broke, as it always does, when I hear stories like this. Less than human. What a thing to say, to experience. What a wretched history we humans have of treating one another with cruelty and disdain.

I could easily imagine the objections to a guy in jail quoting this verse. The book of Hebrews is probably talking about people who are imprisoned for their faith, not criminals who deserve their fate. And what about the victims of the crimes these guys have committed? Who’s remembering them? What about their suffering? If solidarity with suffering is what’s required, why not stand with the victims rather than the perpetrators?

But then I thought of another criminal who deserved his fate, another lowlife being treated like a piece of s***, like he was less than human. The thief, hanging with Jesus on those godforsaken crosses. Jesus, remember me… And Jesus assures the thief that he will not be forgotten, that he will be with him in paradise.

Jesus, of course, suffers alongside and in the place of both victims and perpetrators. He lays down his life for his friends and his enemies. He remembers all who cry out to him for salvation.

Fleming Rutledge, in her little book The Seven Last Words from the Cross says this about what it means to say God “remembers” us:

It does not mean “to think about” or “to recall to mind.” That would not mean very much. When God “remembers,” he does not just think about us. He acts for us, with power to save. Somehow the crucified criminal on Jesus’ right was enabled to see something that day that no one else saw. He saw Jesus reigning as a King and determining the destinies of people even in his tormented and dying state. To see him that way… is to see him as he truly is and to understand the source of his power. Not by signs and wonders, not by magic and dazzlement, not by “shock and awe,” but only by an ultimate act of God’s own self-sacrifice does Christ rule.

Remember me. Remember our suffering. On the one hand, the guy in my bible study was simply asking not to be forgotten, to remind us that even prisoners deserve to be treated like human beings. But perhaps he spoke more than he knew. Perhaps, in his own way, he was reaching out to the One who determines each one of our destinies, the One who acts for us, the only One with power to save.


The image above is a portrayal of “the Penitent Thief” on a stained glass window in Museo del Duomo, Milan, Italy.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Elizabeth #

    I tend to be the sort of voice that dominates a room. Sometimes I feel that I should be quiet and give others a chance to talk and I will. But then others will look to me for that leadership and still I remain quiet. And sometimes, just sometimes that one quiet person will speak up. It’s usually at that moment that I let my breath out – not even realizing that I was holding it. Often enough what they share is amazing! Epic! Thought provoking! Deep! It’s then that I feel like I’ve seen Jesus in them. He’s there for me in the quiet and also inside the quiet. I need to be there more.

    Thank you for a wonderful reflection.

    March 22, 2023
    • Group dynamics are so interesting, aren’t they? The ways in which we rely on and expect things from each other, the gaps we don’t always know what to do with, the meaningful silences that emerge, and what comes out of them. It’s fascinating. Thanks for sharing, Elizabeth!

      March 23, 2023

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: