Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95
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.
Hearing them sing, and amazed at seeing them alive, King Nebuchadnezzar 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.”
Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.
“Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our ancestors,
and to be praised and highly exalted forever;
And blessed is your glorious, holy name,
and to be highly praised and highly exalted forever.
Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
and to be extolled and highly glorified forever.
Blessed are you who look into the depths from your throne on the cherubim,
and to be praised and highly exalted forever.
Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
and to be extolled and highly exalted forever.
Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
and to be sung and glorified forever.
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.”
We see pieces of a common story arc in both the Old and New Testament today. False gods identified and challenged. The challenged idolators respond with deadly anger, and their challengers lay down their lives in the name of the One True God. And the One True God responds with life-saving power.
In the book of Daniel, Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego face off with Nebuchadnezzar, whose idolatry is blatant. Whether Nebuchadnezzar’s establishment of the golden statue arose from a pagan devotion to a false god or was merely a symbol of his own ambition for supreme power, it was clearly a power-play to enforce religious conformity among his people and express his dominion over them. Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego could not deliver themselves out of their enslavement to this idolatrous regime, but they could defy it and submit themselves into the hands of the One True God, knowing their souls would be safe with Him whatever happened to their bodies. Having his idol named and defied enraged Nebuchadnezzar and he ordered their execution. But his anger was overcome by amazement when God showed His power over death and, in a Messianic foreshadowing, sent One from Heaven to walk through the fire with the young men and save them from death.
In Jesus’s day, the form of idolatry that had crept in among the people whom He addressed was much more subtle and sinister. They were not enslaved like Shadrach, Mesach, and Abednego and being forced to kneel to a golden statue, but rather they were the slaves of their own sins, their own selfishness. These were invisible monuments, their own power plays to show that they were the ones in dominion over their own lives, not God. And they were hiding it behind their religiosity, and claiming Abraham as their father although they were not acting as children of Abraham should. Having their idol named and challenged by Jesus enraged them and they sought to kill Him, as He prophesied to them. Of course, we know that in the next part of the story, Jesus will show Himself to be Lord over death when the Father raises Him. How the people would respond to this resurrection power remains an open question.
This story arc is still playing out in our lives today. What role we play in the story, and how we will respond to Jesus’s invitation to be free in Him, is also continually an open question. What false gods are present in our lives? That is, what cultural currents, ways of thinking, ambitions or selfish desires demand our allegiance over our submission to God? Are we defying these, whatever the cost? Or does it makes us angry to have it suggested that these things might be idols, that God would need to free us from them? Today, let’s take time to kneel before God and ask Him to show us what may have power over us. Let’s take these things to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and ask Him to free us to be more than ever His children, that we may receive Him and honor Him as Lord as we approach Holy Week.