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Contemporary Comments
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Jeremiah’s Yoke
Jeremiah 16:1–13; Hosea 1:1–3; Jeremiah 27:1–18; Daniel 4:25; Jeremiah 28; 2 Timothy 4:3, 4
November 28, 2015

This last Monday, a group of activists in New York gathered to protest a form of prison punishment—solitary confinement. They held signs that said, “Solitary is Torture.” The group meets on the 23rd of each month to signify the 23 hours a day prisoners are typically locked down when in solitary confinement. [1]

Solitary confinement is a type of imprisonment in which an inmate is isolated from all contact with other people, except brief interaction with prison staff. It can be used if prison regulations are violated or if a prisoner is in protective custody. Nicknames for solitary confinement include “the hotbox”, “the hole”, “lockdown”, or “punk city.”

One of the concerns by protestors is that solitary confinement can cause serious psychological or physiological problems. It is viewed as cruel and has no redeeming qualities. Research, they say, shows that this form of punishment does not reform inmates and appears to cause more harm than good.

Jeremiah, as we learn in this week’s Sabbath school lesson, got a taste of living in solitary confinement. The lonely prophet was called to never marry or have children. He was to avoid joyous social occasions. His very life was a parable, portraying the coming pain of broken families when Babylon would destroy Jerusalem and carry off captives.

It’s difficult to understand the yoke that Jeremiah was required to bear as a prophet. Today, we would label someone living in this unusual way as a lunatic. Yet, in his day the odd behaviors spoke a message from God in forms that would compete with Hollywood today. Why else would several kings want this voice from heaven silenced?

Solitary is torture and what Jeremiah endured was agony. It was meant to tell us the results of turning from God’s ways. We were created to live in community, to enjoy friendships, to express love toward others, and to receive support from other humans. No person was ever meant to live alone on an island. We thrive in healthy relationships.

Are there lonely, isolated people in your church? Are there people who are pushed to the side or who are ignored? Who usually gets invited home for Sabbath dinner? Which people sit by themselves at fellowship dinners? Perhaps we need to carry signs around at church that say, “Stop Solitary Confinement!” Let’s remove the yoke and welcome people to God’s family.

~cr

[1] http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/brooklyn/activists-hold-rally-solitary-confinement-article-1.2444329