In today’s first reading we hear the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and their visit to the fiery furnace. This tale has a powerful message for all of us, just like all Scripture does, if we simply stop and listen, holding the words in our hearts.
What would you do if faced with serving another god and making homage to an idolatrous statue and by doing so, reject God? And let’s up the ante… the punishment for not doing this would be a horrifying death in the fiery furnace?
If you are like me, perhaps you will say that you would never reject God. Well, that may be the case for you, but if I even think about this for a minute, I can see just where and how I reject God all day long. Perhaps it is even worse, because I do it so mindlessly, God forgive me.
We are at a critical point in our Lenten journey with Jesus. Jerusalem is calling to us; not a fiery furnace, but the cross awaits us, just as it awaits Jesus. Certain death. Suddenly this whole Christian thing is looking very uncomfortable. Very, very uncomfortable.
Most likely, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, could have rationalized their way out of this. I know that I could! “Le’s see, I think. I ‘pretend’ to follow King Nebuchadnezzar’s god, and when I get out, I will make good on what I have done wrong! Phew! No fiery furnace for me!”
Now as our new Pope Francis recently reminded us that “the Lord never tires of forgiving,” true enough. However, do we ever tire of making the wrong choices? I know that I feel like I tire of making them, but somehow, I… keep… making… them… *sigh*
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are a reminder, forerunners of Christ, of what happens when we make the correct choice. Often we lose it all – or seemingly so. Do we really lose it? Or do we gain? If our life is solely grounded in the material, then forget it. If we are solely grounded in how many hours we spend in church or in prayer, looking up at God, we might want to forget that, also. Once again, we find ourselves in the great both/and of life. We have certain obligations and responsibilities to our material life, true enough. And wouldn’t we want time in church and in prayer?
How do we hold the tension between heaven and earth and make the correct choices? Sometimes we have to choose the most difficult thing. Jesus lived that for us, he died for us. There were many before him who foreshadow what was to come, from Moses to Abraham to – I could go on and on – and including, our three friends in the hot spot.
This Sunday we will hear the Passion, and then we enter Holy Week. What awaits us? The same things that awaited Jesus. Choices between life and death, with the counter-intuitive choice of death bringing new life.
The fiery furnace and the Cross attract me, but do I really choose them? Luckily for us, our tireless God forgives us, but ultimately our choice will have to be made.
What will we do?