Thursday, February 25, 2016
Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel and rescued his servants who trusted in him! They ignored the king’s orders and laid their bodies on the line rather than serve or worship any god but their own.
[Daniel 3:28 The Message]
Part of my struggle with this Lenten effort I’ve undertaken is that the selection of some of these readings just don’t make sense. Very seldom can you read a passage without reading what precedes the content or what follows. To read mere and meaningless words on a page in a vacuum without any background would be an exercise in futility. They are definitely not quick reads that can be analyzed and reflected upon without any additional effort, especially the Old Testament readings.
The introduction to the Daily Lectionary in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, from which these selections are taken, says, “The foundational premise of this set of daily readings is their relationship to the Sunday lectionary. The readings are chosen so that the days leading up to Sunday (Thursday through Saturday) prepare for the Sunday readings.” [p. 1121]
Well, Sunday’s readings – since I’ve simultaneously been working on my sermon for this coming Sunday – do not include Daniel, nor any reading that resembles anything close to it. The slight connection I’ve been able to make is in the passage from 1 Corinthians, which reads: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” [1 Cor. 10:13b]
Also, applying these stories to our present-day situation becomes at times challenging, to say the least.
Yet, in spite of the occasional frustration, I love the challenge. I become anxious when I have to set aside the effort for lack of time or because I have to attend to other more pressing matters. Yesterday morning, for example, I had to prepare for a presentation to an ecumenical gathering in Cleveland and I felt an obligation to reread and rehearse my remarks for that speech instead of dealing with the commitment to reflect on the daily readings.
The restlessness was overbearing because all day my mind was on what I had yet to do. Obsessive compulsiveness is not in my nature, but I understand how some people can become that way.
I share all this in hopes it will serve as encouragement to you. Daily devotional reading is not a walk in the park. It can, however, be a valuable tool in helping one develop a sense of commitment and hopefully, deepen one’s faith.
All that being said, there are many ways to interpret the story of the three men in the fiery furnace. There are those who claim that a war on Christianity is currently being waged in America. That issue is too complex to be debated here without getting into legal wrangling over constitutional rights. But the ones who support that argument can easily make parallels between their position and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s refusal to bow down to a golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar.
Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, of Loyola Marymount University, points out in his commentary on the book of Daniel, that it is, “a notoriously dangerous book that has fueled religious speculation as well as contributing to social unrest and even revolution.” [New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VII, p. 19]
My earliest recollection of this book was from a Wednesday afternoon Bible class I attended as a child. I heard and saw Bible stories demonstrated on a felt board with cutout characters moving about the canvas. It was like a blockbuster serial. I couldn’t wait for the following week’s episode.
Obviously, the innocence of youth has given way to the realities of adulthood. But though I now read the story in search of its much deeper meaning, it still holds that same timeless fascination. Oh that God’s word would take hold of us all with the same inescapable grip!