1990 July 29 – 17th Sun Ord Time (Prison Writings)
1 Kgs. 3:5, 7-12
Rom. 8: 28-30
.”Give your Servant, Therefore, An Understanding Heart to Judge Your People and to Distinguish Right From Wrong” l Kgs. 3 :9
In this week’s 1st reading from 1st Kings we read about the famous encounter between God and King Solomon in a dream and ask him to ask anything he wanted from God and God would give it to him. Solomon asked for an “understanding heart” so he could judge God’s chosen people justly and the ability to “distinguish right from wrong.” God was pleased with the young Kings response and granted Solomon’s request. God gave Solomon a “heart so wise and understanding” that there never was nor ever will be one his equal.
Solomon reached the peak of his career early in his reign. His wisdom was unmatched and world-renowned. He quickly built the First Temple in Jerusalem. Like his wisdom, his Temple was world class. But soon after the building of the Temple things started to go wrong. Not in a worldly sense. The last half of Solomon’s reign saw the greatest expansion the nation of Israel had ever known. Its borders reached the furthest points, its political and economic influence was at its greatest and the King and his court lived in opulent wealth. The down side of this worldly success was the masses of people who lost their lands and became poor. Wars of expansion and heavy taxation to help build the many “kingly” projects drained the lifeblood of the common people. The seeds of discontent were well sown by the time of Solomon’s death.
In this week’s 1st reading the young King Solomon chose the greatest gift of all, “an understanding heart” and the knowledge of right and wrong. These divinely given gifts were used well when put to the service of the People of God but once these gifts were used for the expansion of political power and wealth, they turned sour. God’s wisdom must be used justly or it’s no wisdom at all.
This weeks Old Testament text is a great introduction to our Gospel where we conclude our study of Parables in Chapter 13 of Matthew. Matthew’s parables present the new and improved “Wisdom of God” as given to us by the Jews.
“The Reign of God is Like a Buried Treasure… A Merchant’s Search For Fine Pearls… A Dragnet Thrown Into the Lake.” Matt.13: 44-47
This week we conclude our three-week study of Chapter 13 of Matthew, the chapter of seven parables, all of which are likened to the “reign of God”. This week we read the last three.
The first two parables are alike and different at the same time. Like last weeks twin parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, this weeks two parables of the buried treasure and the fine pearl have a common theme. Once the claims of God’s Kingdom have been made and accepted there is no holding back, every thing must be given over to remaining faithful to the Kingdoms vision. In our first parable a man finds a treasure buried in a field. It was not uncommon in Jesus’ day for families to bury their valuables in their fields to safe guard them from bandits and invading armies. The law said a treasure found belongs to the owner of the land where it was found. So it makes sense that once the man in the parable found the treasure he would rebury it and go and sell all he had to buy the field. The common theme shared with our second parable is clear, once the Kingdom is found; you’ve got to put up everything you have to get it. This parable differs with its twin because the man was not looking for the treasure. He simply found it by accident. Still, once he found it, he went all out to keep it. People’s faith journeys are sometimes like this. They can be going about their business when something happens to them or a special person enters their lives and with this surprising encounter they have a whole new understanding of their Faith. Once that happens a whole new priority is established and everything goes on the line to keep the new-found faith alive.
In the second parable, we have a merchant whose business it was to find pearls. One day he found a very valuable pearl. He went off and sold everything he had, even his pearl finding business, to buy this valuable pearl. This parable keeps to the common theme shared with the first parable: once the Kingdom is found you’ve got to put up everything you have to get it. It differs with the first parable because the pearl merchant was seeking out fine pearls it was his business. It’s not by accident that the merchant finds a pearl of great value but by intent.
What I find odd about this parable is that once a truly valuable pearl was found the merchant sells all he has including his pearl business to acquire the pearl. Why did he sell his pearl finding business?
Some people are always seeking after the kingdom. They search high and low for it. They make it their business to be Kingdom seekers. They become so adept at seeking for the Kingdom that when they find it, they don’t recognize it. The parable of the merchant seeking fine pearls teaches us that while seeking may be important once the Kingdom is found even the seeking must be given up for the sake of the Kingdom.
Our study of the seven parables concludes with the parable of the dragnet. It is like the second parable in this chapter of Matthew, a judgment parable. It reminds us again that in the end there will be a great judgment and like what was caught in the dragnet in this last parable at judgment time all will be gathered to be separated between the worthwhile and the useless, the just and the wicked.
“Every Scribe Who is Learned in the Reign of God is Like the Head of a Household Who Can Bring From His Store Both the New and the Old. ” Matt 13:52
At the end of this weeks Gospel, Jesus asks his disciples if they understood his parables. A resounding “YES!” was their reply. I hope my reflections have been helpful to you. In my reading of Matthew the key to understanding his parables is to keep the beatitudes in mind as a guiding light and all Judgment parables must be measured by the final last Judgment parable in Chapter 25.
Matthew concludes this chapter with the above verse about the scribes in the reign of God. It may well be a self-description of the author himself. Tradition has it that the author of the Gospel of Matthew was a converted Jewish scribe, a man who held on to the best of the old in embracing the truths of the new.
“God Makes All Things Work Together For the Good of Those Who Love God.” Rom 8:28
This week’s second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans has been the center of many theological disputes. Paul introduces the whole idea of predestination and with it the age old tension between God’s foreknowledge of human acts and our freedom to choose between right and wrong in the here and now. There really need not be any tension between predestination and freedom when viewed from their proper perspective. Predestination has to do with Gods’ perspective. In Christ, history is assured a happy ending. God know this as only God can. Therefore from Gods perspective everything that happens, both good and bad, work together for the Kingdom. Paul tells us in this weeks reading from Gods perspective those predestined to follow Christ are first called, then justified and then glorified in and with the Lord.
Seen from our human perspective in the here and now, God’s predestined knowledge of the Kingdom is our hoped for reward, God’s call is our Faith Filled response, God’s justifying is our acceptance of Forgiveness and God’s glorifying is our pain and suffering for the Kingdom. God’s predestination and our Freedom are not at odds with each other. They are in fact complimentary realities in the same salvation experience.
90 07 29 – The Hacks Dilemma:
The quality of treatment by the guards has as much to do with the overall experience of imprisonment as the physical plant and the policies that run a jail. I’ve been here long enough to observe a variety of different attitudes by the guards for their work. Some of the guards have a very negative attitude towards inmates. They seem to go out of their way to make their feeling felt. One or two of these guards on a given shift can color the whole day.
I was talking about this problem to Joe Maze. Joe was the head of the jail eight years ago when I was first locked up in a Sarpy County Jail. That was back at the old jail and it was a real dungeon. At the time I fasted for 20 days and Joe personally helped me through the experience. Joe is now working the front office and is third in command from the sheriff. Joe stopped by the laundry room on his way through the jail.
Joe told me I should try to see the situation through the eyes of the guards. They are all trained at the Police Academy with the expectations of working on the streets. The whole emphasis in law enforcement training these days is how to deal with violent criminals, a kind of “Rambo” mentality. The concept of a police officer as a community servant is minimally stressed. Many of the guards who work at the jail are anxious to move on to the streets. They resent having to play this secondary and supportive role.
Joe helped to explain some of the problems but not all of them. Part of the problem is that the jail itself is designed as a maximum security jail. The vast majority of inmates are non-violent offenders, yet all are treated as high security risks. The whole jail population is keeping a semi lock down situation. That means the guards who work the floor have to spend their whole day catering to the inmates. The guards must provide for all our needs. They deliver our mail and medications. They take us to and from our visits. They bring our meals right to the cells. When we are out of toothpaste and toilet paper they must supply us.
Now you take the same guards who are not happy working here and add violent characters and then add to this their actual job description as glorified “go-for’s” and you have the makings of a very negative environment. Joe Maze agreed. I reminded Joe that in a jail setup when something isn’t right it’s always the lowest people in the system that pays the biggest price. What for the hacks (slang for prison guards) is a job dilemma becomes a repressive environment for the inmates.
Love from Sarpy County,
On Monday July 23rd Fr. Frank was moved by the Feds to a county jail in South Dakota. He is doing well, had his first breath of fresh air since April 30th, and his first look at summer. We have no idea if he is there to stay. Please keep him in your prayers. Kathryn Epperson