By {{Bob Kilpatrick}}, courtesy of {{Christian Musician}}

I spent all day recently in Soledad State Prison near Monterey, California. The {{Will Derryberry}} Band went with me and was a big hit with the men, playing their alternative blues. We loaded in, set up, played, tore down, loaded out, drove to another section of the prison and repeated the procedure two more times. While we were in the second service a prisoner came in from the yard covered in blood. This caused a minor commotion at the rear of the chapel. One of the prisoners came forward and handed me a note that said, Keep going with the music and ministry until we tell you to quit! We knew something was up, but we didnt know what, so we kept playing. Finally, the chaplain came to the microphone to inform the men that an incident had occurred in the yard and that the prison was returning to full lock down.

When the prison is on lock down, the inmates are confined to their cells twenty-four hours a day. They had been living this way for the last ninety days because a man had been murdered. This Sunday morning was the prisoners first free (relatively) day, and now they were headed back into lock down again, after only two hours of liberty. One older inmate hunched nearby started to cry softly. Everybody groaned.

All the men in Soledad are there because they did something bad and got caught. There are many people doing bad every day who dont get caught. Im one of them. Of course, Im not breaking the big laws like these guys did. Some of the men whose hands I shook had used those hands to hurt and kill other people. Some had stolen family treasures and resold them for pennies on the dollar. Some had traded in drugs and pornography. All had been caught.

All day as we moved through the institution I pondered Jesus words about prisoners: I was in prison and you came to visit me. He was welcoming the righteous into His kingdom. They asked Him when they had seen Him in prison, to which He replied that when they did it to the least of these they had done it to Him. Jesus went on to hold a similar conversation with the unrighteous. When they asked the same question, He gave the same response. If you did it to the least of these, you did it to Me.

My question is simple: why did Jesus mention a group of people who had done bad? Why did He link Himself to the losers of society? What disturbed me was that He had linked me with them, too. What I did to them, I did to Him. I asked, Why, Jesus?

The only answer I have is this: Jesus wants to underscore that He loves and acceptseven identifies withpeople who do bad. He wants to emphasize the complete reach of His mercy. There is no one, not one, who is beyond His reach. There is no sinner He will not accept. Adulterers, drunkards, infidels and blasphemers all find amazing grace at His hands.

But the point of His comment is that I should have the same wildly extravagant grace for people, too. When I do it to the least, I do it to Him. I find it easy to love people in concept, even a murdering rapist. But if he comes to my house and commits his crimes, I will have my revenge. No one can treat my wife or daughter like that and think they can get away with it. Its so much harder to forgive the ones who treat me badly when the sin is perpetrated against me. But Jesus seems to be saying that mercy is for the bad, really bad and very worst.

A pastor I know just left his large congregation because he has been sleeping with (thats a euphemism. If theyd been sleeping, I wouldnt be writing this.) his best friends wife for seven years. This is not an isolated occurrence. It happens to men and women around the world. It happens not only to the perpetrators but also to their wives and husbands and children and parents and friends. Everyone is drawn in, takes sides, gets hurt and angry, makes regrettable comments, breaks contact. Who forgives? At whose hands will they find wild extravagant mercy? We know that Jesus will forgive them. Will we?

The only people who can get into the family of God are those willing to admit that they are bad people. There are no good people in Gods family. Not any. Were all bad. And He loves us all equally as He does those prisoners.

One Soledad inmate asked me to sing Amazing Grace, which I did. On the very first note, prisoners all across the chapel in each of the three concerts started weeping. And I mean the serious, snotty kind of crying. I think its because they have nothing else to hold on to. If it werent for His grace they would be lost, and everyone knows it. They were very thankful for that extravagant grace. And in every corner of the room, hands that had been used to harm were now lifted to heaven in praise. They have a lot to be thankful for. So do all of us bad people.

{{Bob Kilpatrick}}'s new album released in July from Fair Oaks music. He is the author of the classic song "(In My Life) Lord, Be Glorified". Bob lives with his wife and two of their five children in Fair Oaks, California. A dog (on her way out) and two cats (who couldn't care less) would also list the same address, if they could write. They cannot, but you can at bob@bobkilpatrick.com. 2000 Bob Kilpatrick Ministries, Inc.