Wednesday, March 24, 2010

If You Remain In My Word, You Will Know The Truth, And The Truth Will Set You Free.

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading I
Deuteronomy 3:14-20, 91-92, 95
King Nebuchadnezzar said:
“Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
that you will not serve my god,
or worship the golden statue that I set up?
Be ready now to fall down and worship the statue I had made,
whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet,
flute, lyre, harp, psaltery, bagpipe,
and all the other musical instruments;
otherwise, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace;
and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar,
“There is no need for us
to defend ourselves before you in this matter.
If our God, whom we serve,
can save us from the white-hot furnace
and from your hands, O king, may he save us!
But even if he will not, know, O king,
that we will not serve your god
or worship the golden statue that you set up.”

King Nebuchadnezzar’s face became livid with utter rage
against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
He ordered the furnace to be heated
seven times more than usual
and had some of the strongest men in his army
bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego
and cast them into the white-hot furnace.

Nebuchadnezzar rose in haste and asked his nobles,
“Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?”
“Assuredly, O king,” they answered.
“But,” he replied, “I see four men unfettered and unhurt,
walking in the fire, and the fourth looks like a son of God.”
Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed,
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,
who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him;
they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies
rather than serve or worship any god
except their own God.”
Our lives find their center in God; all else takes second place.

Today’s reading comes from a different section of a passage we saw on Tuesday of the 3rd Week in Lent.

King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had built a golden statue and commanded all his subjects to bow down in adoration before it as a test of loyalty. (Not unlike the requirement that the early Christians had to bow down before an image of the emperor as a sign of abandoning their faith in Christ as Lord.)

Three young Jewish men in the service of the royal court and who were particular favorites of the king for their outstanding qualities refuse to worship the statue. They prefer death rather than turn their back on their God.

In his anger, the king threatens to have them thrown into a white-hot furnace from which no god will save them. The young men calmly reply that either their God will save them, because he can, but, even if he does not, they will still remain steadfast in their trust of God.

The king, now even more angry, has them thrown into a furnace which has been made seven times hotter.

Later, when he makes enquiries, the king finds that the three young men in the company of a fourth are walking unscathed in the fire. The pagan king is deeply moved by what he sees. First, he is filled with admiration for the God that delivered them from certain death and, secondly, he deeply respects the young men who disobeyed him and were ready to sacrifice their lives rather than turn their back on their God. “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego,” he exclaims.

The reading is linked with the Gospel in which Jesus speaks of those who are truly descendants of Abraham. If those attacking him were true descendants, then they would recognise Jesus as truly the Son of God. As it is, they show they are not true descendants.

Reflecting on the First Reading I might ask: What are the idols in my life? Is there anything in my life which I would find very difficult to sacrifice if God asked me to give it up? Is there any thing or any person in my life which comes between God and myself?
+++ +++ +++ +++
Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you, O Lord, the God of our fathers,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever;
And blessed is your holy and glorious name,
praiseworthy and exalted above all for all ages.”
Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.
Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”
Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim;
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever.”
Glory and praise for ever!
“Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
praiseworthy and glorious forever.”
Glory and praise for ever!
+++ +++ +++ +++
John 8:31-42
Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him,
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham
and have never been enslaved to anyone.
How can you say, ‘You will become free’?”
Jesus answered them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin.
A slave does not remain in a household forever,
but a son always remains.
So if the Son frees you, then you will truly be free.
I know that you are descendants of Abraham.
But you are trying to kill me,
because my word has no room among you.
I tell you what I have seen in the Father’s presence;
then do what you have heard from the Father.”

They answered and said to him, “Our father is Abraham.”
Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children,
you would be doing the works of Abraham.
But now you are trying to kill me,
a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God;
Abraham did not do this.
You are doing the works of your father!”
So they said to him, “We were not born of fornication.
We have one Father, God.”
Jesus said to them,
“If God were your Father, you would love me,
for I came from God and am here;
I did not come on my own, but he sent me.”
The contentious dialogue between Jesus and the Jews continues. There are some sayings here which we would do well to reflect on deeply.

“If you make my word your home, you will indeed be my disciples, you will learn the truth and the truth will make you free.” The Pharisees take umbrage at that statement. As descendants of Abraham they were never slaves to anyone. In fact, in the long history of their people, the Jews were almost continuously enslaved to invading powers. However, the slavery Jesus speaks about is the slavery of sin.

In responding to Jesus’ words, how many of us who want to be disciples of Christ have truly made his word our ‘home’? How many of us have to admit that we are not really very familiar with Jesus’ word in the New Testament? Yet we cannot truly follow him unless we are steeped in that word.

Again, how many of us really believe that the truth about life that is communicated to us through Jesus makes us genuinely free? How many of us experience our commitment to Christianity as a liberation? How many have left the Church because they felt suffocated and wanted to be free? What freedom were they looking for? For many being a Christian is sacrificing freedom in exchange for a promise of a future existence of pure happiness. We can say with confidence that, if we do not find being a Christian a liberating experience here and now, we do not really understand the true nature of our Christian faith.

“If God were your father, you would love me, since I have come from God.” To know Jesus, to love Jesus, to follow Jesus is the way to God and it is in God and only in God that we will find true happiness, freedom, and peace. But the only way to know the truth of that statement is to experience it personally.


Sarah in the tent said...

(Not unlike the requirement that the early Christians had to bow down before an image of the emperor as a sign of abandoning their faith in Christ as Lord.)

Father, in 1939 a solid gold devotional mask of the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius was lifted out of an ancient sewer in the pagan Roman sanctuary, a couple of kilometers from where I now live. If you go onto the website and consult the museum archives, you will find pictures and information.

I imagine that it was before just such an image, perhaps struck from the very same mould, that Justin martyr and his followers refused to burn incense. It is strange how the town is prepared to overlook this aspect of Marcus Aurelius, even as it makes his image an unofficial mascot! We even have a Marcus Aurelius old people's home (if I'm lucky, I may end up there one day myself ...)!

I also find it distinctly creepy that this image emerged from the sewer in 1939, just as the 'gnomes of Zurich' readied their vaults to receive Nazi gold, counterfeit currency and stolen treasure.

Golden idols are indeed strangely persistent.

Sarah in the tent said...

'Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, ..'

Can this be right? Even people who believe in him do not (yet) know the truth, are not free, and are trying to kill him. His word has no place in them and so even their deepest belief (in their identity as children of Abraham and God) is a delusion.

There seems to be a difference between believing and knowing (Peter too in John 6:69 says 'We believe, we have come to know ..'). It's as though believing comes from the testimony of reliable witnesses, whereas knowing comes from personal experience - the raising up of Christ. Believing becomes knowing at the point where faith becomes a kind of love. (Peter too was able to say 'Lord, you know that I love you'). Love can sometimes start with a kind of fascination, but it only really becomes love with knowledge. One of the things people sometimes say when they realize they no longer love the person the thought they loved is: 'I don't know you.' It's a shattering realization.

Perhaps the believers Our Lord is addressing are rather like the Israelites who certainly believed the manna would fall day after day, but just did not find it to their taste. Perhaps these people believed Jesus was the Messiah, but wanted to kill him in the hope God would send another who matched their expectations better!

We, in our turn, might try to remodel or edit Him to suit our own preferences. And some people, I think, even try to abort the inconvenient faith that is growing within them.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Yes, Sarah, at this point in the ministry of Jesus, there were people who "believed in him", in the sense that they believed that what he was teaching was true. That is the reason Jesus invited them to become his disciples. If they agree to become members of his company, the rest of what Jesus says to them will follow: the word of God will be at home in their hearts, they will learn the truth, and the truth will make them free."

Those he is talking with on this occasion are not about to take him up on his invitation, though. They are "children of Abraham", and they don't seem to remember that throughout the history of the Chosen People, the "children of Abraham" have been subject to sin. It happened to Moses and Aaron; to Saul, David, and Solomon; to later rulers of Israel as well.

More to the point, today, it is true of the Scribes, Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, who consider themselves to be the paragons of obedience to the Law. But, as we saw in Sunday's gospel about the woman taken in adultery, they interpret the law to suit themselves, which shows them to be hypocrites.

This gospel brings us further along the path set for this week in the liturgy, bringing us closer to the events we will commemorate during Holy Week. Peter will have his own struggles during the next fortnight, and don't forget, his protest, "Lord, you know that I love you!" will come on the day after the Passover Sabbath, when he expresses his sorrow for what happened the previous Thursday morning.