The Hell of Our Jail Cell

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What do you call a caged animal that starts liking its confinement?

If you’re a fan of classic TV sitcoms, you might call him Otis.

He was the town drunk in the old Andy Griffith Show who made Sheriff Andy’s jail cell his second home. Rather than protecting the town from him, that jail cell became Otis’s protection from the world.

Change the name Otis to Adam and the same principle applies to the Creation story. God punished Adam and Eve for wanting to know what it’s like to be God, so their home of flesh became mankind’s jail—until the SECOND Adam came to break the descendants of the first one out of that confinement. But like Otis, Mayberry’s town drunk, we Adams grew to like our cage. It gave us an excuse not to do anything God-like.

This Sunday’s gospel reading from Luke (Lk 9:51-62) shows how frustrating that must have been to The Second Adam when he started recruiting disciples to continue freeing the Adam family, one at a time. To Christ’s invitation, “Follow me,” many of the caged souls he encountered responded with an excuse to stay caged:

“Lord, let me go first and bury my father,” and “First let me say farewell to my family at home.”

Those responses might have puzzled Jesus, considering he just handed these people the keys to the cage that had been keeping them out of his Father’s Kingdom. “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God,” he responded.

But after the wild beasts he tried freeing killed Jesus, Paul—the wild animal the risen Christ later tamed and freed—offered this advice to fellow prisoners who’d become comfortable in their confinement and looked with fear at the door that was opened so they might answer God’s invitation to true freedom:

Do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you go on biting and devouring one another, beware that you are not consumed by one another. (Gal 5:1, 13-18)

That’s the food chain of a fallen world that uses cages for survival. Without those cages, the law of human nature states “Kill or be killed.” Jesus implanted in us a divine law worded simply “Love one another.” Robert Louis Stevenson explored that internal conflict in his classic novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. That story didn’t end well for either of those identities. Maybe Otis, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of Mayberry offers us a happier option, not focused on the exit of a jail cell, but on the re-entry to the Kingdom we were made for.

–Tom Andel

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