1990 July 8 – 14th Sun Ord Time (Prison Writings)
Rom. 8 19, 11-13
“YOUR KING SHALL COME TO YOU: A JUST SAVIOR IS HE.” Zechariah 9/9:
The writings of Zechariah come late in Jewish history during the Post-exilic time. The Book of Zechariah is divided into two parts. The second part, from which this week’s text comes, is known as 2nd Zechariah and is dated some 200 years after the prophet lived. This 2nd section was written in the 4th century B.C., just after the rise of Alexander the Great (333 B.C.). Alexander’s world conquest was very much on the mind of the author of this week’s first reading.
Alexander’s success was a painful reminder of Israel’s own political failures; the downfall of the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, the end of the Davidic kingship, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and the humiliating exile in Babylon. The Post-exilic city of Jerusalem and its Temple was a far cry from the all-powerful national state that the Jewish people had hoped it would be. By the time 2nd Zechariah was written, Jerusalem was a second-rate regional city, insignificant to the larger, more important nations and cities of the world. Alexander was the most powerful leader that the world had ever known. He seemed to be doing all that the people of Israel had hoped they would be doing once they returned from Babylon. What Israel lacked in real political clout and power, it made up for with great hopes and expectations for the future. The task of the author of 2nd Zech. was much like the task of the Prophet Isaiah during the exile. The author had to give his people hope for better times to come. The world conquest of Alexander was something to measure this hope by.
In todays opening verse, 2nd Zech. tells his people to “rejoice” for their “king and just savior” soon will come. The hope for a future Messiah was fully developed by the 4th century B.C. 2nd Zech. knew well of this Messianic hope, yet he envisioned a far different Messiah than most Jewish people were hoping f or. The memory of Israel’s failed political ventures convinced him that the future Messiah would not embrace the traditional power politics of the day. The world d conquest of Alexander may be the mark by which 2nd Zech. measured his Messiah, but this hoped for king and just savior would rule by a totally different power base. Taking h is lead from the Prophet Isaiah, 2nd Zech. fashioned his Messiah from a completely different perspective. Today’s text identifies a few of these unique qualities.
“MEEK AND RIDING ON AN ASS.” Zech .9/9:
2nd Zechariah’s Messiah will come, not as a conquering warrior such as Alexander or as the failed kings of Israel and Judah. 2nd Zech’s Messiah wi11 come in lowliness and peace. This hoped for king and Just savior would be meek and gentle.
“HE SHALL BANISH THE CHARIOT…THE.HORSE…THE WARRIOR’S BOW.” Zech.9/10:
2nd Zechariah’s Messiah will enforce a complete disarmament. He wi11 banish all weapons of war. With no weapons, war would become obsolete under the kingship of 2nd Zech’s just savior.
“HE SHALL PROCLAIM PEACE TO THE NATIONS.” Zech. 9/10:
With all weapons of war banished and war made obsolete, 2nd Zech’s Messiah will proclaim peace to the nations. It is important to note that this proclaimed peace goes beyond the individual. It is explicitly a political peace between organized nations.
“HIS DOMINION SHALL BE…TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH: Zech.9/10:
Every bit as expansive as Alexander’s world conquest, 2nd Zechariah’s Messiah’s rule extends to all the nations of the world. No one, no people and no nation, is excluded from this king and just savior’s dominion. His disarmament and proclaimed peace will be total and all-inclusive.
As 2nd Zech. watched the world conquest of Alexander the Great, he was aware of Jerusalem’s insignificance in all these world-shaping events. He fashioned a hoped for Messiah who would be every bit a. powerful as Alexander, yet who would exercise this power from a completely different source, in a completely different way. 2nd Zech’s Messiah would not rule with weapons of war. This Messiah would be meek and humble. He would bring about world peace solely through the power of God. 2nd Zech. had no idea how this was all going to come about. All he needed to do was trust in God that it would take place. That is all he asked of his own people, to trust in God that this would come to pass.
“FATHER. . . I OFFER PRAISE: FOR WHAT YOU HAVE HIDDEN FROM THE LEARNED AND CLEVER YOU HAVE REVEALED TO THE MEREST CHILDREN.” Mt. 11.25:
In this week’s first reading, we get a description of what the future Messiah will be like. In Jesus, we believe we have the fulfillment of that hoped for Messiah. Clearly, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John understood Jesus to be fulfilling 2nd Zechariah’s Messianic description. In all four Gospels on Palm Sunday, Jesus is reported to have ridden into Jerusalem upon the back of an ass. The connection is undeniable.
Any fair reading of the New Testament would tell us that Jesus, the hoped for Messiah, was just as 2nd Zech. had described him in this week’s reading, meek and gentle, completely non-violent and against all weapons of war. He proclaimed a worldwide peace with the reign of God, a peace meant for every individual, every people and every nation on earth. He leads the way to this kingdom through his own radical self-giving love and non-violent resistance to evil. Jesus would not have his kingdom agenda legislated; he would have it brought about through its practice by example. Jesus expected his followers to pick up where he left off in loving radically and selflessly and by resisting evil non-violently. The merest child could see that this is what Jesus was about and he meant his followers to do the same.
Our Gospel writers did not obscure the true character of Jesus. The earl y Church did not back down from these -critical defining aspects about Jesus. It was only with the passage of time when the Church made its accommodations to the Roman Empire that the “learned and clever” obscured these simple truths of the Gospels. As the Church acquired wealth, power and position, the simple message of love and non-violence took on the trappings of complicating dogmas. The Church began to rely more and more on the force of its laws backed up by secular powers and less and less on the power of persuasion through the example of self-sacrificing love.
Now, in the 20th Century, modern weapons of war have themselves made war obsolete, yet the Church is slow to reclaim the original non-violent character of Jesus. The case for a non-violent Jesus is obvious in our scriptures; even the merest child can see its truth. It is only the “learned and clever” that have the most to lose; their wealth, power and position, who refuse to accept this simple truth.
“COME TO ME. ALL YOU WHO ARE WEARY AND FIND LIFE BURDENSOME AND I WILL REFRESH YOU, TAKE MY YOKE UPON YOUR SHOULDERS AND LEARN FROM ME, FOR I AM GENTLE AND HUMBLE OF HEART.YOUR SOULS WILL FIND REST, FOR MY YOKE IS EASY AND MY BURDEN LIGHT.” Matt. 11:28-30.
My problem is not with accepting the non-violent nature of Jesus’ lordship. I long ago understood the bottom line of a true follower of Jesus was our willingness to love all people unconditionally, especially the poor and even our enemies. Unconditional love is non-violent. It is clear to me that Jesus wants us to follow in his footsteps with lives of radical self-sacrificing love and nonviolent resistance to evil. I know too well that this way of life isn’t practical or well received in our world. And I readily admit that I fail at it miserably. Yet, despite my failures, I can see this way of life is obviously how Jesus wants us to live.
My problem is that I don’t always have the faith needed to trust in the Lord to accomplish his peaceable e kingdom’s mission. Sometimes I live and act as if God’s kingdom depends on me alone. When I am taken up with my own self-importance, I am soon burdened down with intense anxieties, unmet expectations and lots of self-pity. I’m the type of person who likes to believe I’m in control and no one but God is in control of the kingdom.
The last couple of months here at Sarpy Co. Jail have really pointed this out to me. When I first got here, I did not expect to be assigned here. I expected to be sent to a federal prison camp, as I was the last two times. When it became apparent that I was not going to be sent to a camp anytime soon, I started to make a fuss. At the same time, the jail authorities began to hassle me; limiting and tampering with my mail, denying me reading material, not allowing visitations and restricting my access to the Eucharist. They kept me in the maximum-security unit for six weeks, then there were problems with my weekly mailings and access to some of the things I felt I needed. I got so self-concerned that I began to feel that if people weren’t getting my mailing on time, the world was going to end. I worked myself up into a real emotional state. I could not pray. I became paranoid, suspecting every act taken by the jail authorities.
Thank God for good and truthful friends. I call Rich Koeppen and Kathryn Epperson almost daily. One day they intervened and told me that I was losing my perspective that I needed to settle down and accept the fact that I was not in control. They told me I was letting the jail authorities get the best of me. They were right, of course. In the above verses from this week’s Gospel, Jesus is telling his disciples to lighten up. The mission Jesus has given us is difficult enough and radical, se1f-sacrificing love, active, non-violent resistance to evil, and unconditional love carries its own burdens. Jesus asks us only to follow him. He did not make us responsible to accomplish his kingdom. That is Jesus’ task. We are to live our lives, trying to follow his way of living, a radical and most impractical way of life. And like the Prophet Zechariah, we don’t need to know how Jesus is going to ultimately bring about his kingdom. All we need to do is trust it was started with Jesus and will be completed by Jesus soon. And if we experience persecution or hardship because of and for Christ, we should rejoice and be glad.
Whatever we take on for the Lord, we are to give it right back to him. That is what Jesus meant in these verses; that is what I need to do here in Sarpy Co. Jail. Hopefully, I’ll get better at it. I’m still going to push the authorities to do the right thing by my fellow inmates and me. I’m just not going to let the system get to me emotionally. It’s not worth it.
I want to be “refreshed”. I want my “soul” to find “rest” and my time here to be “easy” and the burden “light” for it is Jesus’ yoke that I am carrying, not my own. So said, so confessed and resolved, yet not so easy to live.
90 07 08 Prison Writings
FIFTH YEAR ANNIVERSARY: Last Tuesday, June 21, was a special day for me. It was the 5th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. In the afternoon my mother and my brothers Joe and Tom and Tom’s wife Bridgit, along with their two year old daughter Angela, came to visit me. The guards gave us an hour and 1/2 to visit – a 1/2 hour extra! It was great seeing and visiting them, despite the glass windowpane that separated us and the phone sets we needed to use to talk to each other. Right after the visit, Sr. Elsie Fields and Mary Nolan came to celebrate the Eucharist with me. They were supposed to come last Tuesday, but there was a tornado warning and the Jail guards would not 1et them in. They made up the Tuesday absence with a Thursday visit – a happy coincidence! I got to celebrate the Mass on my anniversary. God is good!
Then at 6 p.m., about 50 people joined my mother and brothers for a prayer service outside the jail under my window. It was so good to see so many friends and supporters gathered outside my window. They came at great cost because it rained most of the time. Most folks managed to see me through my small 2nd floor window. It wasn’t 1ong before every window on my side of the jail was filled with inmates watching the proceedings. Ten minutes into the service and the sheriff’s personnel were telling the group they had to 1eave. It’s against the law in Sarpy Co. to loiter near a jail. Fr. Jack McCaslin tried to explain to the officer that they were praying. The officer could not make the distinction. Everyone gave me a final wave goodbye and finished the prayer service at a near-by park. Charlie Wolford brought a video camera and videoed the service and got individual greetings from everyone who attended. It wil1 be something to look forward to seeing when I ‘m released. I can’t tell you how uplifting it was to see all those folks outside my window. It was both a humbling and strengthening experience. Thank you and God bless you all.