1990 July 22 – 16th Sun Ord Time (Prison Writings)
Time Cycle A
Mt. 13: 24-41
“The Harvest is The End of the World” MT. 13:39
This weeks Gospel picks up where last weeks left off. We are sti11 in Chapter 13 of Matthew, the chapter with 7 parables. This week we read the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th parable in the chapter. We start off with a parable about a farmer sowing good seed. This is the 2nd of two parables about sowing seeds in Chapter 13. Last week we read the 1st one. Jesus often used the images of farming and agriculture to teach the crowds and his disciples. I believe if we did not have good evidence that Jesus grew up in a carpenter’s house, a good case could be made for him being brought up on a farm.
Jesus begins this parable with the phrase, “The Reign of God may be likened to” and then he tells a story of a farmer who sows his field with good seeds. During the night his enemies come and sows the field with weeds. In time the good seeds grow side by side with the bad seeds. The farmer knows his enemies are responsible for the bad seeds. Yet he is patient. If he waits he’ll be able to solve his problem. The farmer will have the two harvested together separating the weeds to be burned and the wheat to be stored in his barns.
Just like last weeks parable, this week’s parable of a farmer sowing seeds is based on sound farming. practices found in Palestine at the time of Christ. The weed in question is known as “darnel”. It resembles wheat in the early stages of growth. Its roots intertwine with those of the wheat. Any attempt to uproot the weed too early would harm the wheat. As the wheat grows taller, the distinction between the plants is obvious. By the time of the harvest the darnel can be separated from the wheat easily. When laid out to dry, darnel can be a good source of kindling. The patience of the farmer is the wisest and most rewarding course to take.
Just like last week’s parable, the first telling is told to the crowd without an explanation. Then Jesus tells two additional parables each starting with the phrase, “the reign of God is like”. In these next two short parables Jesus equates the Kingdom to that of a mustard seed and of yeast. The mustard seed is very small yet the fully-grown mustard plant is a fairly large bush. But it is hardly a great tree where birds would build their nest. Exaggeration is part of the art of telling parables, just like last weeks fabulous and unbelievable yields of “100 or 60 or 30 fold”. And when a very small amount of yeast is added to flour and water it helps produce a great quantity of dough. The moral of these parables is obvious, from very small beginnings God can bring about great things. The followers of Jesus’ radical Gospel in each generation have always been small in numbers yet in the end, at the Kingdoms completion, their humble efforts will produce great results.
Following last weeks pattern, Jesus explains why he teaches the crowds in parables. In this week’s text, Jesus actually dismisses the crowd and goes on to explain the meaning of the parable of the sower. Jesus tells his disciples that the farmer is the Son of man, the field is the world, the good seed are the citizens of the Kingdom, the enemy who sowed the weeds is the devil, the weeds are the followers of the devil, the harvesters are the angels and the harvest is the end of the world. The parable introduces the whole idea of judgment. In the end there are going to be winners and losers. Everyone will be judged according to the way they lived. At judgment time the citizens of the Kingdom will “shine like the sun” in the Kingdom of God and those who follow the evil one will be thrown into “the fiery furnace” of hell.
This parable also tells us that in this world good and evil are allowed to grow side by side. It is only at the last judgment that they will be divided. Our God is like the patient farmer who waits till the end of time to separate the good citizens of the kingdom from those who followed the evil one. In the here and now we are to prove our allegiance by the lives we live.
When put in such black and white terms most of us would see ourselves on the side of the citizens of the Kingdom. Sure, we may have our faults but nothing so bad as to put us in league with the devil. If the evil one were to cross our path most of us believe we would be able to recognize the devil for who he truly is and side with God. Or would we?
In Chapter 25 of Matthew there is another parable about the Last Judgment (25:31-46). In this parable our judgment hinges on our ability to recognize the Christ in our midst. Jesus tells us that whatever we do to one of the least we do to him. Our final reward will be based on how compassionate, caring and self-giving we were to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill and those in prison. If during our lives we reached out and helped these, the most vulnerable in our society we will have reached out to Christ and be among the citizens of the Kingdom on judgment day or else find ourselves in. the fires of hell.
Judging by today’s realities we live in a world where the majority of people live in poverty. This burden of poverty is unfairly shouldered by 3rd world nations. We are 6% of the world’s population yet we consume 30 to 40% of the developed resources the world has to share with everyone. According to the Matthew Judgment parables it will not go well for us come Judgment day.
In Matthews Gospel, Jesus takes seriously his foundation teaching in the Beatitudes. It is from the Beatitudes that Jesus’ teachings and parables must be read. In the beatitudes the poor, the lowly, the powerless and the most vulnerable are blessed. It is the exact opposite standard our society has set for us. Matthews Judgment parables impress on us the need to choose which side we are on, God’s side or the world’s.
Today’s shorter parable of the Mustard Seed and the yeast are meant to encourage those who choose God’s worldview over and above the dominant worldview. According to these parables, its always the few, those labeled foolish by worldly standards, who are living the true Gospel witness in our midst and like the mustard seed which grows into a great bush or the yeast that raises great quantities of dough, God will use the witness of the few in the here and now to produce great results in the end to come.
“Though You Are Master of Might, You Judge With Clemency And With Much Leniency.” Wis. 12:16
As if to offset this weeks Gospel parable of Judgment, our fist reading from the book of Wisdom emphasizes the mercy of God. In this weeks text God’s all powerfulness is claimed and asserted. Though God is all-powerful and has every right to pass judgment and condemn, God chooses to show mercy instead. In stark contrast to the world where might makes right and judgment against another comes easily, God works in an entirely different way. From God’s perspective, God’s leniency toward the wicked is proof of God’s mastery of might. A forgiving God over and above a judging God is more to my liking for none of us truly measures up to God’s standards. The often stated cliché “to err is human, to forgive is divine” rings with much truth. Our reading from Wisdom should reassure us that our God is a God of mercy over judgment, love over law.
“The Spirit Herself Makes Intercessions For Us With Groaning Which Can Not Be Expressed In Speech.” Rom. 8:26
Finally St. Paul reminds us in this weeks 2nd reading from Romans that we are not alone in our struggle to be faithful. We have a divine helper, the Holy Spirit! She intercedes for us in ways that go beyond our human comprehension. She helps bridge the great divide between our human weakness and our divine destiny.
90 07 22 – Prison Writngs
1) Ed is 18 years old. He is here because he raped his younger brother. Anything Ed did to his brother had already been done to him many times over. There is no lower person in a prison pecking order than a baby raper. Ed does not help himself either; he can easily be drawn into talking about his case and the details of his crime. He is a young man desperately seeking attention, any kind of attention, even negative attention. Ed is clearly sick and he knows it.
While in the common room Ed became an easy target for other inmates to be picked on, especially during the evenings when there was nothing to do. When the verbal abuse got bad I would come out of my cell and try to reason with the other inmates. I would say, “We all know Ed has his problems. Ed himself admits he’s sick and wants help. So why egg him on and abuse him.” I would tell the guys, “Your negative treatment of Ed reflects poorly on yourselves. You need not pander to your lower instincts.” Then I would tell them all, “You’re better people than the way you are acting now.” When I spoke in this way they would all agree, “Yes Father you are right but he always seems to be asking for it.” I said, “I know that’s part of his problem. We just don’t have to play into it.”
One night it got very bad and the talk turned to suicide. Three guys were egging Ed on to hang himself after lock down. A guard came through and asked if anything was wrong. I came out of my cell and told the guard there was. I said Ed was talking about suicide. I said Ed needed to get out of this unit. The guard came back in five minutes and took Ed to an isolation cell. It felt ugly to be in the unit that night .One of the guys came up to me and said, “What do you expect, Father, he is a baby raper. He’ll never make it at Lincoln.”
2) Sam is from Kentucky. He has a hillbilly drawl. He has been down in the Federal Prison System for over l2 years. He has less than a year to go. Sam was a bank robber. He loved to steal. He told me he never stole from the poor. I met him in the trustee unit. He worked in the kitchen. He could steal more food from the kitchen than all the rest of the trustees put together. He always shared what he took. Whi1e Sam was working I had some of the nicest salads I’ve ever had. I used to tell Sam that what he took from the kitchen was not stealing. I told him that was liberating that food. 1 told him the real thief was the Federal Bureau of Prisons and Sarpy County Jail who were stealing another day of our life. He liked my interpretation. Every morning he would tell me what he was going to try to “Le-Berate” from the kitchen. He would accent each syllable in the word liberate with his hillbilly slang.
Sam’s generosity did not stop with the trustees. He would try to get as much extra food to the rest of the inmates through his liberating acts. One day the guards found a container of peanuts in the women’s unit. The women refused to tell where it came from. The Sergeant on duty suspected the trustees. Our TV and phone privileges were cut off until we told the Sergeant who was responsible for the peanuts getting into the women’s unit. I immediately began to think in terms of an organized response, but Sam quickly turned himself in. He said there was no reason why the rest of us should suffer for what one guy did. The next day they moved Sam to the maximum-security unit. I don’t approve of stealing and I don’t approve of bank robbing but .in places like this, bank robbers and thieves have the high moral ground to institutions that lock people up in cages. Liberating food from prison kitchens is a time-honored endeavor. May it continue until there are no more prisons and jails to lock people up. God Bless Sam, the Liberator.
3) There is an attitude in this Jail by the staff that since we are in a new facility there is no need to spend any money for upkeep. This is most apparent in the gym. There are three volleyballs but no volleyball nets; there is a work out machine but it’s broken and there are four basketballs but only one usable one. A couple of weeks ago, one of the basketball rims was ripped off its backboard. This was done after repeated people hung from the rim, after attempting to bank the ball. This week the remaining basketball rim was ripped down. We can no longer play basketball.
A number of trustees are upset with this situation. The trustee unit has a window on the 2nd floor looking into the gym. We are the only ones other than the guards who can see into the gym. We know pretty much who the responsible party was. A couple of mornings ago a guard told some of the upset trustees to write out a complaint naming the culprit. He told them a new charge could be given to the man named in the complaint.
After the guard left I made a case for not turning in the other inmate. I said, “Why should we do the guards work for them? They are supposed to be monitoring the gym. More than one guy was hanging on the rims in the last couple of months. The guards are just trying to look for a scapegoat. They really don’t care about the rims. Without them their work is easier less people will use the gym. What we need to do is get the jail to replace the rims as soon as possible. They are the responsible ones!” My fellow trustees agreed with me. We wrote out a complaint asking that the baskets be replaced. Solidarity amongst prison inmates is so important yet very difficult to achieve when the whole system works against it.
90 07 22 – Mitch Snyder
Like just about everyone else I was shocked and saddened by the news of Mitch Snyder’s death by suicide. Mitch was the spark and spirit behind the homeless issue in the country during the 1980’s. His accomplishments were many and great. He moved the most powerful people in this country to take the homeless seriously. He and “The Community for Creative Non Violence” lead a rough and difficult life. Phil Berrigan called them the “Marines” of the movement. Many people outside and within the movement did not like his style, his manners or his form of leadership, Regardless of his personal faults; it was obvious that God was working through him to bring attention to the plight of the homeless. . His death is a real loss. Let us keep him in our prayers and thoughts as we continue to struggle to eliminate the cause of homelessness. It was an honor to have known him personally.