Summary: It is truly time to emulate Our Lord and the great saints, who trusted in God and helped others who were in need or in peril.
Tuesday of the 3rd Week in Lent 2020
St. Patrick and Three Young Men and Trust
When you pick up a King James Bible and read this story from the Book of Daniel, of the trust three young prophet-exiles had in their God, and their deliverance from the fiery furnace, you read this passage: “Therefore because the king's commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flames of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste. . .”
Even a casual reading of that version of the Scriptures will leave you wondering why the king was astonished. The only explanation is that something was left out, and that would be the delivering angel and the praying and the singing of the three young men with the angel. The Greek text, which was the Bible of the early Christians all over the Roman Empire, preserved that original part of Daniel, but the Protestant revolutionary translators, when they purged Catholic elements from the vernacular Scriptures, eliminated this with the excuse that it was not in the Hebrew text they had from the Jews.
In doing so, the revolutionaries lost a lot of the meaning. This is the prayer of the exile from Jerusalem, who remembered the worship in the Temple that Nebuchadnezzar had destroyed. They were in perpetual mourning because the Temple sacrifices were no more. So the prayer of Azariah here is a really radical offering. He’s professing to God and everyone else that the Jews had no temple because they had betrayed the covenant between Israel and the Lord. And so they were suffering under the curses Moses had laid out in the Book of Deuteronomy. They had no land, no temple, no leader, no prophet, no sacrifice–nothing. Therefore, Azariah prayed that they–the three faithful young exiles–themselves become the sacrifice, burned up in the pagan furnace like a ram or bullock in the Temple. Thus the covenant might be restored and the people of Israel delivered, and their persecutors put to shame and made powerless. You see, he was offering up their three bodies in total obedience and dedication to the True God. So strong was the trust of these Hebrews in their Lord. And God honored that sacrifice and delivered them.
In the Gospel we see both trust and its opposite operating, and so we see what happens when humans abandon trust for suspicion and deceit. The amount owed by this servant to the king was like the national debt of some third-world countries today. It was huge. But when he was asked, like God the king forgave the debt. It took either great trust or incredible chutzpah for the servant to ask forgiveness. But it paid off. And then the jerk proved his true colors to everybody when he refused to trust his fellow servant to service his tiny debt. The king would have nothing to do with that kind of hypocrisy, and so he threw the first servant into debtors’ prison until somebody would pay off the huge debt. Without any friends, the servant would spend eternity in jail, just as will happen to us, eternity in separation from Our Lord and the saints, if we do not forgive all who offend or abuse us from the heart.
Because of what? Because of the story that was not read today. God rescued Hananiah, Azariah and Mishael from the fiery furnace, and so accepted their devotion as their sacrifice, rather than their mortal bodies. But God sent His own Son, Jesus, and let Him go to death as a sacrifice for the sins of anyone who would believe in Him and obey the Law of Love. We are called in our day to have the same kind of trust the three young men had in their Lord. And that’s a trust that says not “we’ll trust you if you save us,” but rather “we trust you to save us even if we lose our lives doing it.”
Today we are faced with a great challenge–a viral outbreak that has panicked millions of people, even though its mortality rate is small compared to the Black Plague or the Spanish flu of a hundred years ago. Now I agree that if anyone has a communicable disease, that person should stay out of contact with other people until the danger passes. But come together, trusting one another to take proper care, to pray, to help others, to act as a community following the Law of Love. It is truly time to emulate Our Lord and the great saints, who trusted in God and helped others who were in need or in peril. Let’s ask St. Charles Borromeo, who survived the plague even though he ministered to the sick, to pray for us. And St. Patrick as well, who healed the sick as he evangelized his culture in Ireland, to pray for all who minister to the sick. Amen.