Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent | Readings: Daniel 3:14-20, 91-92; John 8:31-42
We have all experienced it. When someone wants to dislike us, no matter what we do, it will be interpreted in the worst possible fashion. As we often say, “You can’t win.” When someone’s heart is hardened already, you could be Jesus himself, and they will seriously see you as wrong, inferior, dangerous, and heretical—which is what is about to happen in Holy Week.
At that point, no matter what evil a person decides to do to you, it will be deemed virtuous and praiseworthy by hardened or paranoid people in the hostile camp. “He is a terrorist!” they might say. Never having the humility or honesty to admit that to someone else, looking from a different perspective (which is deemed totally wrong), he probably looks like a sacrificial and dedicated freedom fighter. Well, this is exactly what is happening in both readings today.
In the book of Daniel, we have old king Nebuchadnezzar’s “face livid with utter rage” at three poor little Jewish boys with strange names— just because they will not “worship the golden statue that I set up.” Do you hear that? Who made it golden and who set it up? Could it be Nebuchadnezzar himself? What a perfect metaphor for total and absolute narcissism. Poor Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego are dealing with an already closed and self-enclosed system. Nothing can get in or out of this king’s heart or head. It is no surprise that he has to throw them into the white-hot furnace. There is no other way he can retain his “truth,” which, of course, is no truth at all.
Then we have a very complex Gospel text, which does not present “the Jews” in a very good light. John had to make a clear villain here for the sake of the debate, so he safely chose his own race and people. There are claims and counterclaims of truth, freedom, lineage, tradition, killing, and divine illegitimacy. Jesus fights back well, but he does not have a chance. Their hearts are already hardened in place, which in this archetypal story is really not a statement about Jews as much as it is about all of humanity. “I have my conclusions already, do not bother me with any new information that might make me change my judgment.”
Most Christians would probably be slow to admit that by these criteria almost all of us would have opposed Jesus. “This is not our tradition, he is not from our group, and he has no credentials!”
“If you make my word your home, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been the slaves to anyone! What do you mean by “‘We will be free?’” Jesus answered them, ‘I tell you sincerely, anyone who chooses a deadended life and stops growing, is in sin, and that is slavery.’” John 8:31–35
“God of perfect freedom, open spaces inside of our minds, our hearts, and our memories, so we can just begin to be free. Do not let me be hardened against anyone of your creatures, so that I cannot hear and respect their truth.”