Dn 5:1-6,13-17,23-28; Dn 3:62-67; Lk 21:12-19
In chapter three of Daniel, three young Jewish exiles were thrown into the white-hot furnace because they would not give glory and praise to the king’s golden image. While they were being rescued from the fire by an angel of the Lord they rejoiced and sang, “Give glory and eternal praise to the LORD!” Indeed they danced about in the white-hot flames and invited all of creation to praise and bless the Name of the Lord. The whole cosmos, sun, moon, stars, showers, dew, winds, fire, heat, cold, and chill is summoned to give glory and eternal praise to the LORD. In today’s first reading from chapter five of Daniel the new king, Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, is having a great celebration with all his lords and ladies. In their drunken revelry, they refuse to give the LORD glory and eternal praise; they are quickly sobered up when a hand appears and writes on the wall of the banquet hall. In today’s gospel the Lord Jesus instructs his disciples “not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.” As his disciples today in the courts of public opinion, we may not read writing on the wall, but the LORD will provide for us the wisdom we need when we need it.
King Nebuchadnezzar removed the sacred vessels of gold and silver from the temple of the LORD in Jerusalem. He placed these symbols of his triumph over the Israelites in his own temple in Babylon. Perhaps, he wanted his god to recognize his great power over other nations and their national divinities. Or perhaps, the King wanted to express his gratitude for the help his god had given him in conquering Israel. Such bold and arrogant behavior is far surpassed in the ego of his son, King Belshazzar. It wasn’t enough of an insult to the LORD, the God of Israel, that the sacred vessels from his temple in Jerusalem were captured and brought into exile like his people Israel. King Belshazzar went even further than his father by having these sacred vessels brought in to his drunken orgy. There the officials of the court and their wives and the entertainers were using these sacred vessels to get drunk on their wine. If that wasn’t insult enough, these revelers, no doubt led by the king himself, began to praise their gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone. It seems that at this point the Lord’s own patience gave way to his righteous anger. The Lord did not hold back; he stretched out his hand and wrote to people so caught up in their own false worship that they could not see the dangerous consequences of their own behavior. The irony of the scene is completed when not one of these wise and powerful members of the royal court could read the writing on the wall. The exile Daniel had to be summoned and the king had to ask for his services. Though the king tried to impress his guests and persuade Daniel with promises of gold and power. Daniel told the king to keep his gifts, and then proceeded to translate the writing. This divine communication is the last thing any tyrant wants to hear. Daniel prefaced his interpretation with this witness, “The God in whose hand is your life breath and the whole course of your life, you did not glorify. By him were the wrist and hand sent, and the writing set down.” Finally, the good news of the ultimate victory of the LORD, the God of Israel is proclaimed in the court of King Balthazar, “This is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, TEKEL, and PERES. These words mean: MENE, God has numbered your kingdom and put an end to it; TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
The New Daniel, the Lord Jesus Christ, is reading the writing on the wall for all his disciples. We are warned that the future holds persecution and suffering for all who follow the Lord Jesus. We will be handed over to the authorities who are threatened by our firm faith and strong communities. In the 1930s we were a danger to the Nazi regime and since then we have discovered that Hitler had his “final solution” for the Catholic Church. It was the same as his solution for the Jewish people. No tyrant can deal with confident faith and faithful perseverance. Even the fearful ones among our own families and communities who try to protect themselves by turning us into the authorities will do no harm to God’s beloved children. Not even death or the threat of death will cause any fear because we trust the Lord Jesus who said, “You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” The powerful witness of the first Daniel in the courts of his captor-king helps us to understand the faithful witness of the Lord Jesus. Such visions are not so impossible to imagine. All ready the heat has been turned up, even if we are not in a white-hot furnace. All ready there are false prophets in our society who proclaim our faith as dangerous; indeed, some claim that we are more dangerous than radical Islam. All ready we are hated because we call ourselves followers of Jesus the Christ.