A New Revelation
In these times we are plagued with so many misappropriations and unthinkable events. I recently attended a church service at a correctional facility where the message that was delivered really struck a chord within me. Throughout the years I have spent many hours studying the books of the Bible, as well as conducting Bible studies myself. I have sat under the tutelage of church leaders and pastors and have learned that there is so much more to God's Word than I could have imagined. The message I heard at this particular service, on this particular Sunday was one I have never heard before.
The congregation at the service that day consisted largely of prisoners and their visitors. I was very happy that the message spoken was directly related to the men who make up the population of the facility and was entirely relevant to their lives. The pastor spoke of how similar Mary's predicament was to theirs.
We all know the wonderful story of how the Holy Spirit came upon Mary, who was a virgin, and she became pregnant. She was engaged, but not married, and, as her culture and religion dictated, she had led a very sheltered life. Her family was close-knit and her parents raised her under all the warmth and tradition of their religion. It was unheard of for a girl to get pregnant if she was unmarried, unless she was the Mary Magdelene type.
Mary Was Saved From Execution
The punishment for an unmarried woman who was discovered to have spent time with a man in those days was stoning. She was brought into the street, in front of the entire village. Their objective was not to frighten her or to "send her a message". Stoning was a popular method of execution.
The woman would be buried up to her shoulders and a crowd of volunteers would surround her and beat her with stones until she was dead. If the criminal was male, he would be buried up to his waist. The stones used were to be small enough that death would be a painful process and would take approximately 10 to 20 minutes.
Under worldly circumstances this would have been Mary's fate. But Joseph, by the direction of God, understood that there was something supernatural about her situation and, by faith, packed her up and got her out of town. He saved her life. If her neighbors had discovered her condition, there would have been no questions asked.
Mary, by all appearances, was a criminal. Who would have believed her story if she had been found out? Of course, God had a plan in place, as He always does. The point of the message, however, is hope. There was hope for Mary. By human standards she had done the unpardonable. She was ushered out of town by the man who loved her unconditionally, but she had brought shame upon her family. She couldn't stay in her home, with the family she loved, in the town where she had grown up, the only home she ever knew. She was shunned. Her life would never be the same.
By the same token people who are or have been incarcerated are looked down upon by others, and are usually not welcome in very many communities upon their release. People who live in the neighborhood of a prison are usually on their guard and sometimes live harboring an element of fear and distrust. Never mind understanding that people in prison are individuals and deserve to be looked upon as individuals.
A Hope and A Future
Mary may have been devastated by her circumstances. It may have seemed to her that there was no way out. As unconditionally devoted to her as Joseph was, she was probably ashamed because of what he and others assumed about her. It would have been very difficult to tell the truth. Who would have believed her? But her hope was in God. She knew that she had been faithful to Joseph and she knew that her God knew the truth and that he would take care of her.
After realizing victory in her life, her son was born, and the world came to know who He was. Her hope was in God, knowing He had a plan, "I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future", Jeremiah 29:11.
God wants His people to know that they have a hope and a future in Him, even as they navigate through prison life, just as He gave Mary a hope and a future. The pastor giving the message at church that day joyfully pointed out that those incarcerated have a lot in common with Mary, the Mother of God. She can identify with them. This fact causes the stigma of being a prisoner to fall away and gives the inmate membership in very exclusive club!