Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Tuesday in Passion Week

Daniel 14:27-42 / John 7:1-13

During the seven days Daniel spent in the lion's den, what did the lions eat? We are told that in the den there were seven lions, and they had given them two carcasses every day, and two sheep: but then they were not given unto them, that they might devour Daniel. Daniel, we are told, was sustained by the boiled pottage and bread in a bowl which the prophet Habakkuk had prepared to bring to the reapers at work in the field in Judea. We might well imagine, then, that there was more than enough food for one man in the pottage and bread prepared for a whole team of hungry farmhands. What of the lions, then?

One of the striking features of the story of Daniel in the lion's den is the way that God's plan to deliver Daniel turns out to be at least as much, if not more, a story of God's deliverance of all those who are burdened. To be sure, Daniel is grateful for the freedom he derives at God's hand: in the miraculous transport of Habakkuk with this pottage and bread by the Angel of the Lord who carried him by the hair of his head from Judea to Babylon, there to provide food and, more importantly, hope for Daniel; in the guarding him from the lions who went without any food themselves; and in the return of the king of Babylon who drew him out of the lion's den. Thou hast remembered me, O God, proclaimed Daniel, even before his final deliverance, and Thou hast not forsaken them that love Thee.

However, what is curious and striking are the other freedoms we see. For Habakkuk, prophet for the beleaguered people of Judah, God provides a wider sense of the extent of his mercy. Habakkuk had intended an altogether laudable act in the feeding of laborers, but God called him to assist a prophet he knew not in a land he knew not in a predicament he knew not: Lord, I never saw Babylon, nor do I know the den. From being the prophet of a small, reduced people, Habakkuk becomes the deliverer for a prophet whose liberation would inspire the ultimate freedom of the captives of Israel to return to the Land of Promise.

For the king of Babylon, pressed upon ... violently: and being constrained by necessity through the influence of the wicked and self-serving priests of Bel and keepers of the dragon, the cult of the former and the life of the latter being destroyed by Daniel, Daniel's deliverance from the lions becomes an occasion to be free from the false gods and their priests. From being reduced to fear by this false religion, the king, seeing Daniel safe, can assert his own royal dignity as well as the dignity of the true God: And the king cried out with a loud voice, saying: Great art Thou, O Lord, the God of Daniel. And he drew him out of the lion's den. But those that had been the cause of his destruction, he cast into the den, and they were devoured in a moment before him. Then the king said: Let all the inhabitants of the whole earth fear the God of Daniel: for He is the Savior, working signs and wonders in the earth; Who hath delivered Daniel out of the lion's den.

And what of the lions? These poor creatures had also been burdened, fed at the good pleasure of the priests of Bel, and starved when it suited their purpose. Their natural desire to eat, the hunger that all animals know in their daily contest to survive, had been engineered, instrumentalized in the desire of these false worshippers of false gods to be rid of the holy prophet of the Lord God. However, whether by the restraining power of the Angel of the Lord, the charisms poured upon Daniel, or perhaps some non-rational echo of fasting for the sake of righteousness, these lions embraced suffering and hunger so that they might serve that end for which they were made, the greater glory of God. All the more fitting, then, that they could break their fast by feasting on the very men who had so abused their nature need to eat, perverting the right relationship God had intended for the sons of Adam, the sons of Noah, to show to the brute beasts under their dominion.

We have turned to the Lord for weeks now, since Ash Wednesday, for deliverance from the perils that assail us, and perhaps like Daniel we have received help from unlikely places, in ways unplanned and unforeseen by us and by those who helped us. Our helpers may have been already inclined to do the good, but did not expect for us to be their beneficiaries. Our helpers may have been those who were themselves under the burden of the pressure and coercion of others, and in their helping us, found a way to be free. Or, we may even have found help in the voiceless creation, in the setting of the sun, the flight of a bird of prey, or the timid scurry of a mouse, an echo, not willed by the creatures but willed by him upon whom they were patterned, the eternal Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lent has never been simply about our own deliverance from sin. Said better, our own being set free from the chains of sin and death, of false desires and diabolical deceit, has always been both so that others might share in our liberation. While our sins are always our own, our gracious freedom won by Jesus Christ is always delightfully and abundantly shared.

Grant us, we beseech Thee, O Lord, a persevering obedience to Thy will: that in our day the people who serve Thee may increase both in merit and in number.

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