Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent

(Optional Memorial for Saint Vincent Ferrer, Priest)

“Three Brothers in the Furnace” By Gustave Doré,1865
During the Fifth Week of Lent (especially in cycles B and C when the Gospel of Lazarus is not read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent) optional Mass Texts are offered.
Commentary on Dn3:14-20, 91-92, 95
The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is recounted in this selection. The three brothers, companions of the book’s hero, Daniel, are commanded to violate Mosaic Law by worshiping a graven image. In their love for God they reject this command and are condemned to be burned alive. Rather than perishing in the fire King Nebuchadnezzar had prepared for them, God sends an angel to intervene, the brothers are saved, and the king is converted.
This passage, popular during the persecutions of both the Jews in their exile and the Christians, served as a sign of the promise of salvation for the faithful, proof that God would not abandon them in their need.
Responsorial Psalm: Daniel 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56
R. (52b) Glory and praise for ever!
Commentary on Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55,56
The Responsorial Psalm is a song of praise to God taken from the Book of Daniel.  This selection is the hymn chanted by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego as they stood in the white hot furnace. (Note: in Daniel 1:7 Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were given the Babylonian names of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.) This section is part of one of the litanies contained in the hymn. In this instance, it is a doxology. “In general this word means a short verse praising God and beginning, as a rule, with the Greek word Doxa.”[4]
The three heroes were being punished by King Nebuchadnezzar for not worshiping a golden idol he had set up.  An angel of God came to them in their plight and kept them from harm, even though the furnace was so hot it burned those who tended it.
Gospel: John 8:31-42
Commentary on Jn 8:31-42
In this passage from St. John’s Gospel, Jesus continues his discourse with the Jews “who believed in him.” This statement is ironic, since just a few verses later (v. 37) he says: “But you are trying to kill me.” The point made here is that all are enslaved by sin and only Jesus, who is sent by the Father, can release us from that slavery. As much as the Jews argue that they have come from Abraham, Jesus pushes back and says, if you came from Abraham, your actions would make that clear; if you believe in God that also would be clear – something different must therefore be true.
CCC: Jn 8:31-32 89; Jn 8:32 1741, 2466; Jn 8:33-36 588; Jn 8:34-36 549, 601, 613
We are given two contrasting pictures of humanity in today’s scripture and we see God’s response clearly. In the first reading we find Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego confronted with a horrible death by being burned alive in a furnace if they do not become apostate, reject their God and worship King Nebuchadnezzar’s golden idol.
The three companions of Daniel remain faithful, and even though the men who cast them into the furnace are killed by the heat in the act of throwing them into the flames, they are unharmed. Not just unharmed: scripture tells us they are walking around on the white hot coals, in the company of a fourth who is apparently an angel (“…the fourth looks like a son of God”). Their reward for faithfulness was salvation by divine intervention.
We then shift to Jesus, still embroiled in the discussion started earlier in St. John’s Gospel. It says he is speaking to Jews who believe in him, but we note that later in the passage, on a couple of different occasions, the Lord mentions they are trying to kill him – not something the “Jews who believe in him” would be doing.
St. John’s Gospel is full of ironic statements, and there are a couple of good ones in this passage. But rather than getting focused on the language, let’s look at the message. The example of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being saved because they were faithful in the face of death is taken to a new level in Christ who, being one with the Father, asks for that same level of faithfulness in order to save us from an even worse fate.
When we take this message in the context of our Lenten journey, we see that scripture calls us to refine and sharpen our sense of who we are in Christ Jesus. He calls to us and tells us by example that, if we believe in him, our actions will demonstrate our faith. If we are truly people who believe in him, others will see us and how we love one another, and they will know of our belief in the Only Begotten Son of God.

[1] The picture is “Three Brothers in the Furnace” By Gustave Doré,1865

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