Do you truly love God with your whole heart, soul and mind? Or do you place your own agenda first and God’s second? Would you stand by God at all costs, or would you be more likely to give in to temporal needs and pleasure?
In today’s first reading from Daniel, we hear of an interchange between King Nebuchadnezzar and three gentlemen named Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three men refuse to worship the King’s man-made statue, because they know the One, true God and worship Him alone. These three men are willing to put their full faith and trust in God claiming,
If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue that you set up (Daniel 3:17-18).
Did you catch that one phrase, “But even if he will not…?” These men know that their fate truly rests in God’s hands and not the King’s hands. If it be God’s will they will be spared. However, if God chooses to let the King’s deeds be carried out, then so be it; for these three men place God’s will first, rather than their own. The King decides to throw them into a fiery furnace. There they meet a fourth figure, a man looking like the son of God.
Unlike Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, how often do we put conditions on God; seeking our own will rather than God’s will for our temporal comfort and pleasure? Do you realize that when we do so, we are actually breaking the First Commandment? Anything that comes between us and God to satisfy our wants and desires means that we place prominence on such things over God, and thus break the First Commandment. It could be fame, fortune, sex, or even personal security. However, when a person can truly put God first, loving Him with one’s whole heart, soul and mind, as did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, then nothing can enslave the person; not even the threat against one’s life. That is what Jesus tries to teach in today’s Gospel reading.
Where Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego believed that the God of Israel deserved their full faith and trust, Jesus now lays claim to that loyalty in the fulfillment of His mission when He states, “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” (John 8:31-32), where the “truth” is salvation through Jesus and “freedom” is freedom from death caused by sin. Jesus is telling the people that the way to the God of Israel is through Him. However, the Jews are skeptical. For millennia, they have placed their loyalty in the God of Israel. Who was this Jesus, that He should now lay such a claim? Because of their suspicions, the Jews plotted to kill Jesus. All along, Jesus knew what they were doing and why. He closes this teaching with a powerful punch:
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” (John 8:42). For the Jews to be plotting to kill Jesus, these thoughts of murder go against the Fifth Commandment given to the Israelites by the God of Israel: “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex 20:13). By Jesus’ statement of “If God were your Father…” He is stating that the God of Israel would never condone such evil, and therefore, they do not follow the precepts of the God of Israel, as they so claim. Such thoughts of murder could only come from the evil one. Therefore, the Jews of Jesus’ era were placing their loyalty elsewhere, and not with the God of Israel.
So, here is the big question: Are you like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, yet with the full knowledge of Jesus as the Son of God, and you love Him with your whole heart, soul and mind? Or, are you placing something of temporal value between you and God? Think carefully before you answer this question, and don’t deceive yourself. Then, during this Lenten season, make it to the Confessional and ask Jesus for a heart like that of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Virginia Lieto teaches theology for Saint Joseph’s College Online. Her new children’s book Finding Patience was recently published (and makes a great Easter gift!). She blogs at www.virginialieto.com.