This afternoon’s reflection will focus on the 1st Reading. Let’s review the events described in this Reading.
The 1st Reading describes an incident that took place when the Jewish people were captives in Babylon. The Babylonians were pagans; they did not believe in God. Their ruler, King Nebuchadnezzar, builds a golden statue and commands all his subjects to bow down in worship before it. Three young Jewish men in the service of the royal court and who are held in high esteem by the king refuse to kneel and adore the statue. They want to remain faithful to their belief in God.
In his anger, the king threatens to have them thrown into a furnace to be burned to death. In the face of torture and death, the young men refuse to reject God. They calmly reply that either God will use his power to save them or not. However, even if God does not save them, they will still remain steadfast in their trust of God.
The king, now in a fierce rage, has them tied up and thrown into a furnace which has been made seven times hotter. Then, the unbelievable happens! The king discovers that the three young men in the company of a fourth are walking in the midst of the fire, unharmed and untouched by the flames, singing hymns to God and blessing the Lord.
The pagan king is deeply moved by what he sees. He deeply respects the young men who disobeyed him and were ready to sacrifice their lives rather than turn their back on their God. The king now correctly refers to the 3 young men as the “servants of God”. In the end, the king praises God who delivered the servants who trusted in him.
Ultimately, this passage is not about the three young men. It is about us.
The key message of this Reading is that the 1st commandment is still relevant and valid: “I am the Lord your God: you shall not have strange Gods before me”. As the 3 young men were called to follow this commandment in 550 BC., we are called to follow the same commandment in 2021 AD. We are faithful to the 1st commandment when we respond to 3 invitations.
The 1st invitation is to place God first in our lives. Everything else is secondary: our family, our children, making money, building a career, seeking material abundance, having fun with friends. We ought to vigilant so that these goals do not become the priorities of our living and cause us to turn our backs on God. Each of us is invited to reflect on these questions. What are the golden statues in my life? What worldly attachments would I find difficult to sacrifice if God asked me to give them up?
The second invitation is that, as the three young men became servants of God in a pagan culture, we are called to become servants of God in our secular culture. When Pope Francis spoke at the Angelus this past Sunday, he referred to the Gospel of the day which recounts that some Greeks wanted to see Jesus. Pope Francis said many people today also want to see, to meet and to know Jesus.
The Pope continued by explaining, “So, we, Christians and our communities have the great responsibility to make this possible by the witness of a life that is given in service, a life that takes upon itself the style of God: closeness, compassion and tenderness”. What the Pope is saying is that to be a Christian is to give witness to Jesus through concrete acts of love. What is the quality of my love and service? How do I turn my back on God and worship the false gods of selfish and self-serving desires?
The 3rd invitation is that, like the 3 young men, we are called to have an unwavering and steadfast trust in God. St. Teresa of Avila, a Carmelite nun, mystic and Doctor of the Church, wrote this prayer in the 1500s.
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.
St. Teresa’s prayer reminds us to invite God into every moment of our lives, especially when hardships and troubles come. How firm and constant is my trust in God during my times of struggle? When do I seek peace of mind by adoring the idols of wealth, power, social status or pleasure?
As our Mass continues, let us ask God to help us to follow the example of these 3 young men. May God give us the grace to be faithful to the 1st commandment by keeping him at the center of our lives, by being his servants in the circumstances of our lives and by placing all our hope and trust in him.
Deacon Roland Muzzatti
March 24, 2021