It was a new and beautiful smell among the prison walls, the smell of steaks cooking. The guards were confused and acidly bitter over being assigned to meal preparation for the prisoners. Burning coals not only seared and flamed the steaks but also burned unbearably onto their foreheads. The jailers broke under the heat.
“I’m going to kill that fucking new warden! Jesus Christ, he’s an asshole!””
“God damn tha’ son-of-a-bitch! Who the fuck does he think he does to treat prisoners like this? Better than we get!”
“There’s always gotta be some liberal moron to come along that wants to “rehabilitate” these animals. Is this his idea of ‘justice’?”
Reason lost hope to the guards’ smoldering anger. As thoughts of murder raged through their minds, the delicious smell of the steaks wafted its way to the starved and beaten prisoners – who also became angry.
“Can you smell that? They’re cooking steaks just to fucking torture us!”
“You sadistic bastards! I’ll snap your goddam necks!”
“Evil rules! Justice is dead!”
Kindness is the road less traveled. And few are those who stay on it to the end. But it’s the only path to our dreams, the conduit of life. Hope is the food for that journey but in this institution of hate, hope had been declared enemy #1. Such was the folly of both captor and captives.
The warden was a man truly vilified. His life was like a mirror, reflecting those around him – and many were those seething, beside themselves with intolerable anger at the image reflected back at them. The image they saw, however, is what they used to describe the warden. But it was only themselves who burned in the flames of hell. The roasted guards continued their lament.
“Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn! I can’t stand doing this shit! It’s all I can do not to walk the hell out of here!”
“It’s immoral is what it is! The warden has no principles! Feeding these animals steaks just condones their behavior! I asked my pastor about this and he said this was condoning sin and setting a bad example for our children! The man is a soulless outrage!”
“That’s alright. We’ll get the bastard back later and show him what we’re truly made of. Someone’s gotta teach that son-of-a-bitch right from wrong.” The sentiment received muffled grunts of affirmation. “We still run this prison. And besides, I got that Chapman kid on hidden mike whining about getting his first ass rape!” Much laughter followed.
“Oh, God, I can’t wait to hear that! Were you able to keep a straight face when he was tellin’ ya about it?”
“Just barely! He really thought I was gonna do something about it!”
It was to this roar of laughter the warden was greeted as he entered the kitchen. The guards muted to shamed silence as the guileless face of the warden spoke.
“I hope everyone understands I’m having you cook this meal for the inmates in an effort to save your souls.” Knuckles whitened on the grips of knives. “The good news is the meal is to be shared by all! Everyone is invited to eat with me and the prisoners!” But as the warden’s eyes searched the room, he found no takers and left.
“The good news,” muttered one murderous guard, “is we’re going to kill your sorry ass.”
The prisoners were equally incensed even after learning the steaks were for them. The idea of the guards being allowed to share in their take took away all its specialness. To many it was just plain repulsive. Some, however, weren’t to be denied a steak dinner and a heated argument broke out reflecting the conflict in their souls. But among the prisoners was one who called himself saved.
“Stop this! Stop this bickering! We’ve got to show we’re better than the guards! This is our one chance to shame them all.”
Curious minds silenced their voices as the saved man spoke.
“When the Day of the Lord comes, it will come as a thief in the night. That’s something you guys should know a thing or two about!” A smattering of guffaws smirked. “It could be at any moment, so be prepared! Do you want Jesus to see you as you like this? As murderers and rapists and dark-souled creatures? Is that what you really want?” As the prisoner preacher looked into the eyes of his audience, he saw he held them captive. “No, of course not! You want to be saved when the time comes. Let God see you as a real man, not some hungry, desperate animal. Real men live on the outside. They aren’t hungry, they eat all the steaks they want! Act like a moral man and eat a moral meal. Those steaks are temptation but a man of God already has all that he wants.”
Chains of self knowledge held each person in place. Oh, to be called moral! Their souls thirsted for it, their hearts ached for it – except for one.
“Hey, Chapman, where you going? Get back here!” yelled a prisoner to the stray.
On hearing this, the preacher turned round in horror. “Come back, my son! Don’t give in! Remain strong! Why do such a thing?”
Chapman was confused by their protests. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. In fact, he thought them stupid for staying behind - if not outright immoral. “I do it because I want to,” he replied. He left off the word ‘moron’.
At the banquet table sat the warden, dressed in white and radiating goodness and warmth. All the food lay out before him. Jesus was his name and love was his game.
“Congratulations, you’re a free man!”
“You mean I can leave here?”
“You already have. To let them see you as you truly are is the only way to be free. Come, join in the meal. It’s a fine one!”
“It’s always been a dream of mine to eat all the steak I want. But I can’t believe I’m the only one!”
“Such as it will be with the kingdom of heaven.”
“I don’t understand.”
“In the time of my trial, no one wanted to see me dead - not one soul in the land. I could see it in their eyes and feel it in their hearts.”
“You know, it’s kind of funny thinking about you being in a trial just like I was,” the free man mused. “So what happened? Why’d they convict?”
“Oftentimes, the hardest thing in the world to do is what you want. Rare is that strength.” Looking back at the hungry, jealous faces of the onlookers – both guards’ and prisoners’, trapped behind walls of pride - hearing those catcalls and barbs, the free man understood. “And when you fail yourself, there lies your prison.”
“But what about religion? Won’t religion save us?”
“Religion?” scoffed Jesus. “Religion is just pornography in the name of God.”
“But he said he was saved, that everyone is that believes in you.”
“You are what you choose to be – regardless of what you say you choose.”
The free man’s eyes moved to the mounds and mounds of freshly grilled steaks. “What about all this food? We can’t just let it rot.”
“I can’t eat it for them,” burped Jesus.
The free man shook his head. “Good God, what a waste...”