1998 Nov – 1st Sun Advent (Prison Writings)
A – cycle
Is 2, 1-5
Rom 13, 11-14
Mt 24, 37-44
Reflection by Fr. Frank Cordaro November 1998
“They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.” Isaiah 2:4
I could not have asked for a better text to start my weekly Advent Reflections. The Book of Isaiah is the single most important book of the Old Testament for reading and understanding the New Testament and the person and nature of Jesus. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John use the book of Isaiah as the subtext and blueprint for writing their Gospel stories of the life of Jesus. In this weeks text the prophet Isaiah proclaims a messianic vision that incorporates some of the major themes he will use throughout his book. Isaiah foretells of some future time when from a new and improved Jerusalem the Word of God will go forth and it will bring together all the nations and peoples of the world. And they will be instructed n the ways of god.
In this future time Israel’s mission will be universal, not limited to God’s chosen people the Jews but for the whole world, a time when God’s word will be the judge between the nations and peoples of the world. In this time the nations of the world will initiate a program of total disarmament, when monies and resources once used for weapons of war will be redirected toward instruments of peace, to meet the most basic of human needs, food.
It will be a time when all wars are outlawed and the preparations and study for war long forgotten. In the New Testament it is made abundantly clear that this vision of Isaiah is fulfilled with the comings of Jesus. Anticipating the comings of Jesus, both his first and his second is what the season of Advent is supposed to be all about. Too often the emphasis of the season is placed on celebrating Jesus’ birth, his first coming, while ignoring his second coming, his final coming and judgment day. Living in anticipation of Jesus’ Second Coming at the end of time is equally as important as believing in his first coming. It is only in this in between time and the tensions that separate the first from the second coming of Jesus that we can begin to grasp the call and the challenge of Jesus’ fulfillment of Isaiah’s Messianic vision.
For those who have questions about why I participated in the God’s of Metal Plowshares Witness last May 17th and landed myself in jail, this text and messianic vision of Isaiah is a good beginning explanation. What Isaiah foretold, we Christians believe Jesus fulfilled. A fulfillment that the New Testament tells us comes in a two-stage process. In Jesus first coming he does the necessary work, wins the battle and sets in motion the inevitable outcome; Gods’ victory over evil and death, the righting of all injustice, the end of all violence and war. Yet, with God’s victory assured, its final fulfillment is delayed until his Second Coming at the end of time and judgment day.
It is in this in between time, this ‘here and not yet’ era of Christianity, that the believers of Jesus must live, not as passive observers but as active proclaimers of this non-violent kingdom of God. For me the taking of the hammer and blood to a B-52 Bomber at Andrews Air Force Base last May was an enfleshment of Isaiah’s vision and Jesus’ victory. It was also an act of faith for sure, a truth that is still a promise yet unseen but worthy of our embodiment.
“Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God.” Romans 13:1
For “law & order” Christians this week’s second reading from Romans 13 and its first seven verses are their proven text that Christians have no right to willfully break the laws of the state. If these were the only verses in the New Testament these ‘law and order’ Christians might have a point. But they are not. Romans 13: 1-7 must be read in the context of the larger story and teachings in the New Testament. Example is often the best teacher. According to the four gospels Jesus spent much of his public life breaking the rules, customs, mar-a’s, and laws of his day. He was in open rebellion with the legitimate authorities of the land. His ‘cleansing of the temple’ was the law-breaking event that sealed his fate to the cross. After the resurrection, Jesus’ disciples continued his law breaking ways, many of them spending much of their lives in and out prisons, before judges and found guilty of law breaking, some were even given the death penalty for their law breaking ways.
And finally, St. Paul the author of Romans was himself a great lawbreaker, who found himself under arrest, before judges, thrown into jail, flogged, whipped, and stoned throughout his Christian career. At the time of his writing of Romans he was under arrest and being transported to Rome to stand trial for his law breaking ways. He was eventually put to death in Rome. So obviously Paul is saying something more in Romans 13: 1-7 than that Christians should offer blind obedience to laws and people in authority. Scripture commentaries tell us Paul is trying to state a principle here. In a just and ordered human society there must be just law and just institutions and people who insure these laws are kept. To this degree all Christians are duty bound to respect and obey these laws and the institutions and people who enforce them.
The key word here is ‘just’, a just society, just laws and just institutions. Once a higher authority tries to enforce an unjust law or uses an otherwise just law to protect an unjust situation or an evil thing, Christians are under no obligation to obey these laws or the people who are trying to enforce them.
In some cases Christians are duty bound to intentionally break just laws to expose a greater evil. This is what Jesus did in the cleansing of the temple and it is what we, the Gods’ of Metal Plowshare folks, believed we did with hammers and blood on the B-52 bomber last May at Andrews Air Force Base. Perhaps the verse in this week’s text from Romans that puts this whole issue in proper perspective is verse 8, “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
If each Christian measured all laws and their obligations by this standard, all laws and authorities worthy of our allegiance and obedience would become clear and those that don’t measure up to this loving standard will likewise show themselves.
“So too, you also must be prepared, for an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Matthew 24:44
Advent is the season for waiting, preparing, and anticipating the comings of Jesus. The first coming has already taken place. With Jesus birth, his life, death and resurrection, the promise of salvation and the victory of God’s kingdom has been won and assured. Advent gives us an opportunity to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birthday on December 25th.
But in this week’s gospel from Matthew 24: 37-44 we are given advice and instructions on how we should prepare and anticipate Jesus’ Second Coming at the end of time. Matthew tells us that Jesus’ Second Coming will be like the time of Noah when people went about their everyday lives, clueless that the rains shortly to come were going to destroy all life on the earth except for the life saved in Noah’s ark. We’re told that when Jesus returns the second time some will be taken to him and others will be left behind. And there will be no telling which will be taken and which will remain by simple appearances. So Matthew advises people to stay awake, be prepared for we will never know the time or the hour of Jesus’ return.
Whether we live to see the Second Coming of Jesus in our life times or not, it really doesn’t matter. For each of us has to deal with our individual comings and goings of Jesus. Our first coming of Jesus took place at our baptism when we were brought into the family of Christian faith. And our last going to Jesus will take place at the moment of our death when we are brought before the Lord for our own individual judgment. And throughout our entire life we will have countless opportunities to encounter Jesus in our everyday living. Another way to raise the issues this week’s gospel addresses might be to ask ourselves, “If we were to be arrested today and charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us?”
Rev. Frank Cordaro, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Des Moines in Iowa, is currently imprisoned as part of the “Gods of Metal Plowshares” witness. On May 17, 1998 Srs. Ardeth Platte and Carol Gilbert, Ms. Kathy Shields-Boylan, Rev. Frank Cordaro and Lawrence Morlan began disarming a B-52 bomber at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland, thus beating a nuclear sword into a plowshare. They await sentencing in January 1999.