This blog uses the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church
Reading 1, Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92, 95
14 Nebuchadnezzar addressed them, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, is it true that you do not serve my gods, and that you refuse to worship the golden statue I have set up?
15 When you hear the sound of horn, pipe, lyre, zither, harp, bagpipe and every other kind of instrument, are you prepared to prostrate yourselves and worship the statue I have made? If you refuse to worship it, you will be thrown forthwith into the burning fiery furnace; then which of the gods could save you from my power?’
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego replied to King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘Your question needs no answer from us:
17 if our God, the one we serve, is able to save us from the burning fiery furnace and from your power, Your Majesty, he will save us;
18 and even if he does not, then you must know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your god or worship the statue you have set up.’
19 This infuriated King Nebuchadnezzar; his expression was changed now as he looked at Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego. He gave orders for the furnace to be made seven times hotter than usual
20 and commanded certain stalwarts from his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego and throw them into the burning fiery furnace.
91 King Nebuchadnezzar sprang to his feet in amazement. He said to his advisers, ‘Did we not have these three men thrown bound into the fire?’ They answered the king, ‘Certainly, Your Majesty’.
92 ‘But’, he went on, ‘I can see four men walking free in the heart of the fire and quite unharmed! And the fourth looks like a child of the gods!’
95 ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego: he has sent his angel to rescue his servants who, putting their trust in him, defied the order of the king, and preferred to forfeit their bodies rather than serve or worship any god but their God.
Gospel, John 8:31-42
31 To the Jews who believed in him Jesus said: If you make my word your home you will indeed be my disciples;
32 you will come to know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
33 They answered, ‘We are descended from Abraham and we have never been the slaves of anyone; what do you mean, “You will be set free?” ‘
34 Jesus replied: In all truth I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave.
35 Now a slave has no permanent standing in the household, but a son belongs to it for ever.
36 So if the Son sets you free, you will indeed be free.
37 I know that you are descended from Abraham; but you want to kill me because my word finds no place in you.
38 What I speak of is what I have seen at my Father’s side, and you too put into action the lessons you have learnt from your father.
39 They repeated, ‘Our father is Abraham.’ Jesus said to them: If you are Abraham’s children, do as Abraham did.
40 As it is, you want to kill me, a man who has told you the truth as I have learnt it from God; that is not what Abraham did.
41 You are doing your father’s work. They replied, ‘We were not born illegitimate, the only father we have is God.’
42 Jesus answered: If God were your father, you would love me, since I have my origin in God and have come from him; I did not come of my own accord, but he sent me.”
The passage from Daniel has been chosen to show the resolve of the three men in the face of idolatry. The book is a largely fictional account of events during the Persian rule in Palestine, but it was written during the Greek rule of Palestine in the 2nd century BCE. It is evidence of the opposition of Jews to Greek rule, and Greek attitudes to religion. The freedom of speech in opposition to a tyrant is remarkable. Perhaps their God will save them… “but even if he does not, you must know, your majesty, that we will not worship your God nor bow down to the statue you have set up.” The tone of voice is very unusual for the time, and shows a boldness of speech which bodes ill for tyranny. Willingness to suffer for the truth, and frankness of speech to power, are qualities needed in all times and places, including our own.
The image of God’s household is of great importance in the ministry of Jesus as represented in all four gospels. The underlying idea of today’s passage from John, is that Jesus’ message offers those who accept it a place in God’s household, not as slaves who must be made to obey, but as slaves set free to become children. John here is quite close to Paul’s teaching of our adoption by God. Jesus’ Jewish hearers are outraged at his description of them as slaves: as Abraham’s children, they are also children of God. They do not need the “Son” to set them free. In the gospel story, this scene is part of the enactment of the line in its prologue, “he came to his own, and his own did not receive him.”
Scholars tell us that John’s gospel was written at a time when the young churches were separating from an energetic Judaism, with a lot of bad feeling, and possibly some persecution of Christian believers by the successors of the Pharisees. This rancour has found its way into the gospel’s picture of relations between Jesus and his own people, who are only in this gospel described repeatedly as “the Jews.” Christian anti-Semitism owes something to John’s gospel.
There are sometimes difficult decisions to be taken by the reader of the scriptures. We may admire the bold speaking of the three men in Daniel, but do we admire the way Jesus speaks to his fellow Jews? Of course, it may be argued that this is a naïve question, and that Jesus didn’t say these words, which are rather the expression of the author’s theology. Well, that just puts the question in an altered context, “Do we admire the way this author expresses his theology, at this point?”
I have to answer, “No.” I’m sure that there was a real enmity between Jewish religious leaders and Jesus, as shown in the other gospels, where it is represented as a response to Jesus practice, rather than, as in John, his doctrine about his own status, but Jesus’ followers, disciples, and missionaries, were also Jews. Is this a proper response to the gospel?
Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”