1990 July 15 – 15th Sun Ord Time (Prison Writings)
Is. 55: 10-11
Rom. 8: 18-23
Mt. 13: 1-23
“My Word Shall not return To Me Void.” Is. 55:11:
In this week’s readings, the elements of nature and images of a farmer sowing seed play a major role in our scripture lessons. From the reports, I have received from back home it’s safe to say the drought is officially over. The month of June brought an abundance of rain along with some dangerous storms. There has been flooding in some parts of Iowa and Nebraska. People tell me the crops (if they haven’ t been washed out) look real good. The trees are as deep a green and as full as they have ever been. For the author of our 1st reading, things couldn’t have looked any better either. Chapters 40-55 were written 150 years after the original prophet Isaiah lived during the Babylonian exile. The author is known as Second Isaiah. Today’s text was written just before the Jews were allowed to return to their homeland. Second Isaiah was overjoyed, for 70 years the Jewish people were held captive in Babylon. They had every good reason to give up their faith and assimilate into the Babylonian society. Many actually did but now the few, the remnant, who remained faithful were about to go home.
In this week’s text, the author compares the word of God to the rain that soaks the soil “making it fertile and fruitful.” So to our text says the word of God once spoken “shall do my (God’s) will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” For the faithful, God was coming through on God’s promise. They were returning to rebuild their beloved Jerusalem and temple. This text is a perfect introduction to this weeks Gospel.
Why Do You Speak To Them In Parables? Mt. 13:10
This weeks Gospel is the first of seven parables found in Chapter 13 of Matthew. After Jesus initially told the Parable of the Sower his disciples asked him why he spoke to the crowds in parables. In Chapter 12 Jesus is confronted with growing opposition from the religious leaders. The Pharisees protested when Jesus and his disciples were caught breaking the Sabbath laws for plucking grain from a field to feed themselves on the holy day (12:1-8). On the same day Jesus went to the Pharisee’s synagogue and cured a man with a shriveled hand. These two acts of ecclesiastical civil disobedience enraged the Pharisees. “They began to plot against him to find a way to destroy him.” (Mt. 12: 9~14) The Pharisees went so far as to accuse Jesus of being in league with the devil because he could command demons to leave possessed people. (12:2-32)
From Chapter 12 on, Jesus tries to avoid the authorities. He performs fewer miracles and he begins to speak to the crowds in parables. Jesus was aware his enemies were closing in on him. His time was short and he needed to concentrate his energies on preparing his disciples. Teaching in. parables and then explaining them later to the disciples was one way of continuing to teach the ones close to him while taking the heat off himself with the Pharisees. It is in this context that the telling of the seven parables in Chapter 13 needs to be understood.
“Part Of It Finally Landed on Good Soil and Yielded Grain at a Hundred – or Sixty – or Thirty Fold” Mt. 13:8
Jesus initially tells the Parable of the Sower to the Crowd with no explanation. A farmer goes out to sow seeds, scattering the seed on good and bad soil. For those of us who live in the Midwest and are used to seeing rows and rows of corn and soybeans the farmer in Jesus’ parable seems very foolish. He does not prepare his land and seems to waste a great deal of good seed. Farming in Palestine in the 1st century was very different from the way we farm. The soil was thin and rocky. It made no sense to plow. The farmer would scatter the seeds everywhere in a field and count on enough seed reaching good soil to produce a good crop.
It’s easy to see what Jesus is getting at with the first telling of the parable. Jesus was describing his own situation. He is the sower- and the seeds are his message. At this point in Matthews Gospel Jesus’ message is being rejected by many people. Only a few were fully accepting his words. The few who where are like the good soil, which will bring a yield of 100 or 60 or 30 fold! A fabulous yield for our own time and an unbelievable yield in Jesus’ time. Such is the economics of the Word of God. In faith, the few will accomplish the unbelievable!
“To The Person Who Has, More Will be Given Until They Grow Rich; the Person Who Has Not, Will Lose What Little They Have.”
In the 2nd telling Jesus explains the meaning of the parable to his disciples. Matthew uses this 2nd telling to address some shortcomings in his own faith community. The emphasis shifts from the Sower and the seed to the soil that receives the seed.
Matthew is writing to a predominantly middle class community. The four types of soil represent four ways in which the Word of God was received. The first three kinds of soil represent 3 ways God’s word was being rejected in Matthew’s faith community. It strikes me that Jesus’ description of three types of rejection of his Word are easily transferred to our own time and place. The Church in North America is very much captured by a middle class materialistic spirit. This consumer spirit has all but destroyed the integrity of the Word of God in the body of the faithful. So dominate and perverse is this spirit of materialism in our first World setting that elements of all three rejecting soils overlap and challenge the serious believer.
On The Path:
Completely unreceptive is this soil; worn down by the traffic that crosses over it. There is no place for the seed to take root. This soil simply cannot understand what the Word of God is all about. This may well be the dominant soil of our time. It describes the believer who is numbed out. The person who is satisfied, who sees no real danger in the consumer capitalist value system that dominates our. society. All that is important to them is taking care of themselves and their families. They work hard for the things they have. For them there is no shame in trying to make more money. The more money they make the more security they can give themselves and their families. What faith they do embrace will never challenge the “status quo”. There is no room for the counter cultural values of the beatitudes or the central call for radical self-sacrificing love in their lives. If someone were to challenge them with the true Gospel values, they would simply not understand what they were being told.
In Patches of Rock:
This soil receives the word of God joyously. Initially, it is a good place for God’s Word to grow. However, there is no depth for the Word to take root. This soil is thin and rocky. As soon as the going gets tough, when some self-sacrifice is called for, this soil cuts off God’s Word. This thin and rocky soil is so reflective of our society. Suffering and pain are things to be avoided. In a society that measures its worth by how many things a person has and the comforts they bring to them the idea of giving up wealth and position, of making personal sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel, is foreign and unnatural. Yet in this 1st World setting the Gospels clearly challenge us to make such personal sacrifice, to give up our wealth and privilege positions for the sake of the Kingdom. This thin and rocky soil may recognize the truth of God’s Word initially but at the first sign of struggle it will give up. This weakness can be overcome by valuing the need for good and supportive communities. No one can do it alone. Good community support and backing is a must. Without it we are too easily picked off and isolated. When a trial comes an individual without a community is more likely to give up.
Sown Among Briars:
With the seeds grown among the briars the obstacles to the Word of God are visible. Unlike the seed sown on the path in which the soil is so downtrodden that the word can’t even get started or the seed sowed in thin and rocky soil where it may initially get a good start but die for lack of roots, the seeds grown among the briars have a visible competitor. As soon as the seed in this soil gets started it is choked off and dies. The briars are already established in the soil. There is no room for the good seed to grow.
This soil is more an honest reflection for society than the other two. Since the briars are above ground and clearly seen Jesus is specific in naming this soils problem. Jesus says “worldly anxiety and the lure of money” chokes the good seed. The consumer society we live in is crude and crass in its pursuits of material things. For many the lure of money and the anxiety surrounding its acquisition is the central concern of their lives. If God’s Word is going to be part of their lives it will have to grow side by side with briars, just one of many concerns competing in this soil. But our God is a jealous God. God will not let the Word be just one more concern among many other concerns. It’s all or nothing with Gods Word. Those who embrace the basic values of a money-based society will not make room to receive the Word of God. This was true when Matthew wrote his Gospel. It is true today.
The Good Soil:
Then there is the seed sown in the good soil. It yields a bountiful harvest of 100– or 60– or 30 fold! Matthew knows the Reign of God is in the hands of the few, those who remain faithful despite their given culture or society. These few will know what it means to be among the poor, the meek and the lowly. They will suffer persecution and hardship for the sake of the Kingdom. Yet the return on their investment will be fabulous and unbelievable. The moral in this parable lies in Verse 12. To the ones with much, more will be given. The ones with less will lose what little they have.
“All Creation Groans and is in Agony.” RM 8:22
In this week’s 2nd reading from Romans, Paul connects all creation to our fallen human condition. The effects of sin are not restricted to the human sphere. All creation has been damaged by the sinful condition “yet not without hope.” Paul tells us this because creation has a share in the Redemptive process started by and fulfilled in Jesus. Paul sees creation as part of the redemptive process. Creation is in need of redemption as much as we are. For Paul, Jesus makes redemption possible for all God’s creation and us.
As we move into the 21st century the overriding concern for the human race will be the preservation and stewardship of our planets limited resources and life support systems. More and more we are coming to the realization that all life on this planet is interrelated, inter-connected and inter-dependent. As unique and special as human beings are, we cannot separate ourselves from the fragile eco-life support systems of our environment. These new global, ecological concerns will demand a whole new way of thinking about ourselves, about our relationship to the environment and about our understanding of God. In this week’s text from Romans, Paul helps lay the foundation for a Christo-Ecological perspective. St Paul was the first Christian ecologist!
“I Consider the Suffering of the Present to be as Nothing Compared With the Glory to Be Revealed In Us” Rm. 8:18
St. Paul wrote his letter to the Romans late in his career. He wrote it enroute to Rome where he was to bear witness to Christ for the last time and be put to death. When he speaks of present suffering, it is no small thing. Paul was dragged in and out of courts many times. He was whipped, stoned, and shipwrecked. He spent his share of months and years behind prison bars and all of it for the sake of the Kingdom.
My time here in Sarpy County Jail hardly ranks with St. Paul’s suffering, nor is it easy for me to count it as nothing. Each day carries its own burden. Life has improved since my move to the trustee unit. I tell people now I’m simply in a lousy place. Before, when I was in the maximum-security unit I was in a miserable place. Lousy being better than miserable, I’m grateful for the improvement.
Aside from the low level harassment I’ve been getting over my mail and reading material (People and Institutions who are afraid of the written word scare me) the things that get to inmates here over the long haul are the restrictive structural and policy limitations.
Six months of fluorescent lights and recycled air with no chance for being out doors will have its effect on me. The restrictive visiting hours and the inadequate bedding and 24-hour light policy takes its toll. A library with less than 2,000 books -most of them B rated novels, little or no self-help or self improvement opportunities make the time spent here for most inmates repressive. The jail is basically a maximum-security place in a semi lockdown situation when most of the inmates are non-violent low-level lawbreakers. I hope to interest an attorney to work with me to see if we can get something done to improve the situation here through the courts. I know I risk my privileged position as a trustee. If we can get at least some of these deficiencies changed it will be worth the risk. More on this later as things develop.