March 24, 2021. Wednesday of Week 5 of Lent

March 24, 2021

Wednesday of the fifth week of Lent

1st Reading: Daniel 3:14-20, 24-25

Trusting in God, they are saved from the fiery furnace

Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counsellors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.”
He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.”

Responsorial: from Daniel 3

Response: To you be 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. (R./)
Blessed are you in the temple of your holy glory,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. (R./)
Blessed are you on the throne of your kingdom,
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. (R./)
Blessed are you who look into the depths
from your throne upon the cherubim;
praiseworthy and exalted above all forever. (R./)
Blessed are you in the firmament of heaven,
praiseworthy and glorious forever. (R./)

Gospel: John 8:31-42

Jesus promises that the truth will make us free

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?”
Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father’s presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father.”
They answered him, “Abraham is our father.” Jesus said to them, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does.” They said to him, “We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself.” Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me.

The Truth will set us free

In this drama from the book of Daniel the young men put their trust in God, no matter what might happen. Their reply to the king’s threat was: “If our God can save us, may he save us! But even if he will not, we will not serve your god!” Bravely they accepted the consequences for holding firm to Jewish traditions. They put their chances for survival into the hands of God. The cost was clear and they choose integrity over conformity. When by a miracle they were saved from the fiery furnace Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed: “Blessed be the God who saves the servants that trust in him.”
Similarly, Jesus had decided at all costs to do the will of the One who sent him (John 5:30). Unlike the young men who were thrown into the furnace, he was not saved from the violent death of crucifixion. But when dying on the cross, his prayer too was being answered by the God of all. In the letter to the Hebrews it says that Jesus “was heard because of his reverence… and he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Hebr 5:7-9)
At the centre of Jesus’ heart and soul was unconditional trust and obedience. He came into our world “to do the will of the One who sent me.” Utter trust in the Father was central to his heart’s desire. Our identity as Christians is meant to be similarly focussed. Our Lord assures us: “If you live according to my teaching . . . you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” At crucial moments we may experience our own version of the “fiery furnace”. If we can hold firm, we will have been fully tested, as children of God. And in our final act of dying, we will have the blessed vision of eternal truth.
In past centuries, philosophers and writers have often pondered and debated the ideal of truth, which is so basic for our knowledge and for communication. One notorious distortion of the ideal of truth was the Nazi slogan Arbeit Macht Frei (“Work makes free”) printed over the gates of every concentration camp. Keeping people in prison with a false hope of release showed utter disrespect for truth. In our own day, contradictory versions of the news compete on TV and social media. Computers and smartphones give a platform where everyone can have their say. Pressure-groups and politicians rival each other at spinning their slanted “truth” over what they call “False News” from other sources. More than ever before we need to love truth as a major value, and pray to the Holy Spirit to help us distinguish truth from falsehood of all kinds.
Jesus promised that “the truth will make you free; ” and linked this promise to his own person: “I am the truth.” Along with truth, he promises us freedom, when he says, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” What he offers is what St Paul called “the glorious freedom of the children of God.” Then the Holy Spirit he shares with us gives us power to live as God intends, to bring out what is best in us. True freedom empowers us to love and share ourselves with others as Jesus did – he who was “The man for others.” We pray for truth and freedom – and hope – in a special way during this COVID-19 emergency, so that we can live by the light of God’s truth.


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