Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Dn 3:52-56; Jn 8:31-42
Today’s psalm echoes the universal praise of the Living God. The LORD is God, and there is no other. The gods of the nations are naught. This is the truth proclaimed by the psalm and the first reading today. Even today’s gospel message announces the universal claim of the Creator of heaven and earth and all that is within them. The LORD who chose our fathers is worthy of all praise, and He alone is exalted above all forever. Even his Name is glorious and worthy of all praise throughout the ages. To speak his Name in vain is vanity and a chase after the wind. Not to hallow his Name is to curse his Name. Blessed be the Name of the LORD, now and forever! The LORD is enthroned above all kings and queens; he alone is worthy of all human loyality. Indeed, the LORD looks into the depths of every human heart from his throne upon the cherubim, and sees all He has made. The LORD cries out from the heights, “Behold how good it is!” In all the firmament of the sky, His Brightness cannot be measured. Indeed, the LORD is exalted above all forever; He is glorious and worthy of all praise!
The monarchs of the west and the east have long been held divine. Long before the concept of the divine rights of a king was popular and accepted among the peoples, the ruler was seen as a god. In their exile then the children of Israel were expected to worship Nebuchadnezzar and to bow down before his golden statue whenever they heard the sound of trumpet, flute, lyre, harp, psaltery, bagpipe and all other musical instruments. For the three young Israelites not to fall flat on their faces before the sound and presence of such royal dignity was an affront and a rebellion. Their faith was so strong that they were not at all defensive before the king and his court. Whether or not the LORD would rescue them from the white-hot furnace was not the issue. The important issue was their obedience to the command of the LORD. When the king attempted to punish such disobedience, he witnessed a miracle and proclaimed, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who sent his angel to deliver the servants who trusted in him; they disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.” This startling witness of these three young men summons all of us to trust the LORD in everything. Only then will our witness be startling and bright with the glory of God. Kings and rulers everywhere will be livid and seek to destroy those who are faithful witnesses.
In this gospel passage the opposition is not coming from the Pharisees, it comes from among the disciples, those who believed in him. Even those who followed the Lord Jesus were weak of faith. When they were told, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” The very idea that they might not be free was completely offensive. In self-defense they made the dangerous rhetorical move to claim that they are children of Abraham and therefore they are free. Of course the Lord Jesus cannot fail to point out that such freedom is a limited freedom. It demands that they act like Abraham acted. It demands that they act in faith. However they are not truly descendants of Abraham because they do not believe in the one who came to reveal the Father. Their decision to seek out the Lord and try to kill him does not reveal a relationship to Abraham, the father of faith. So, their father cannot be Abraham. He must be someone else. This brings the discourse to a whole other level. They are insulted that the Lord seems to be calling them “born of fornication.” This seeming offense heightens the rhetoric. Now, the so-called disciples claim to have one Father, God. The Lord Jesus is not afraid to question even this claim. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and am here; I did not come on my own, but he sent me.’” In obedient love Christ has come from the Father to revel his will to all his children, that they might repent and believe the good news. This is how our season of Lent started and this is how our Easter will be celebrated in our turning from slavery to sin and living obedient to the Father in Christ and by the gift of the Holy Spirit.