Richard Beck: On reading the Beatitudes in prison

Richard Beck publishes a powerful blog called Experimental Theology, about which he writes:

The title of this space comes from two places. First, as a research psychologist I try to integrate theology with the experimental social sciences. Second, many of the essays here are theological experiments, exploratory and provisional essays that do not necessarily represent my views on matters of faith or ethics.

His June 18th post arises from leading a weekly bible study at a local prison, reading the bible, as he writes, “from the margins” of society. The post is called “On Fear and Following: Reading the Beatitudes in Prison.” I strongly recommend that you read the entire post.

Texas prison
Here is a pivotal excerpt:

As we read these words the room became very somber. In light of what we’d just been talking about the radical call of Jesus shone like a white hot light. It burned. When you read the Beatitudes on the outside it all sounds so nice and happy. But read inside a prison you suddenly see just how crazy you have to be to be a follower of Jesus. How the Beatitudes really are a matter of life and death.

I asked the prisoners, can you be meek, poor in spirit, or merciful in prison? Finally opening up, they said no, you can’t. You’d get hurt, taken advantage of, raped, killed. Your days would be numbered if you tried to live out the Beatitudes.

And suddenly, I didn’t know what to say. For it became very clear to me what it would mean for me to preach the Beatitudes to these men. I’d be asking them to give their lives to Jesus. I’d be asking them to die.

So I hesitated. For one simple reason. I didn’t know if I was ready to make that commitment. And sensing hesitancy in my own heart, my own fear of Jesus, I couldn’t ask these men to do something that I myself lacked the courage to do.

I feel very much convicted by this passage, knowing that each day I walk to work past dozens of homeless people, some of whom are like the men I myself worked with in prison back in South Carolina.

How to ask others to follow Jesus, when I fear to?

Blèssed Be,

1 comments On Richard Beck: On reading the Beatitudes in prison

  • Virginia Snow Martin

    If you are afraid to love Jesus, you are opening yourself up to whatever you are afraid of. Find the love, and you will be in a safer place. And the people around you will respond to that, whether you suggest that they do the same or not.

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