20 March. Wednesday in the Fifth Week of Lent
Daniel 3:14ff. Trust in God no matter what happens, for he saved his children from the fiery furnace.
Jn 8:31ff. Jesus promises his disciples, “The truth will make you free.”
First Reading: Daniel 3:14-20, 24-25
Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.”
Gospel: John 8:31-42
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does.” They said to him, “We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me.
Following conscience, no matter what
The young men in the book of Daniel follow their consciences and trust in God in spite of what happens to them: “If our God can save us, may he save us! But even if he will not, still we will not serve your God, O king!” With impressive serenity they accept the consequences. “There is no need for us to defend ourselves” they said. The issue was very clear; they had no other choice but what was morally good and acceptable. And when God saved them from being consumed in the super-heated furnace, Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed: “Blessed be the God who sent his angel to deliver the servants that trusted in him.”
Like them, Jesus always did the will of the Father who sent him (John 5:30). He declared: “I have come down from heaven to do the will of him who sent me” (6:38). Total obedience was like daily food to him (4:34). However, unlike the young men in the fiery furnace, Jesus was not spared the violent death of crucifixion, which – paradoxically – came in answer to his prayers. In Hebrews we read how “he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to God, who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when perfected he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebr 5:7-9)
Obedience to God is the heart of Jesus’ very being. “I did not come of my own will but by the will of him who sent me.” His obedience to the Father is the very essence of his life, his very “I Am”. Our identity as disciples of Jesus flows from the same mysterious wellspring of obedience to God. This remains the primary guide to our conscience, regardless of what any earthly authority, whether civil or religious, may say. For in the end, like the young men in the book of Daniel, and like Jesus himself, we must obey God rather than men, if we wish to live as God’s children.