In today’s readings we find people with their backs pressed up against a wall. For Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the wall turns out to be a fiery furnace stoked “seven times more than usual” as retribution for their defiance of the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. For Jesus, the wall takes the form of an obstinate crowd that seeks to publicly disgrace and deny him. A little later on in John 8:59, we learn that this intransigent crowd eventually turns hostile as it attempts to stone Jesus.
Yet, the heroes of our readings today do not succumb to the pressures of having their backs pushed up against the wall. Facing the flames of their death, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego boldy hold fast to their faith, telling the king, “we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.” And Jesus holds his ground amongst the crowd, imploring them that his message is “the truth [that] will set you free.”
These readings draw our attention to the centrality and vitality of spiritual freedom. What seems at stake is the freedom that opens us up to truth. It compels me to ask, in this stripped down desert of Lent, a probing question: what gods and idols do I sacrifice to rather than to the Living God who promises me true and lasting freedom?
We are surrounded by idols today. Let me share with you some that I find myself sacrificing to:—money, which if I’m not careful can become how I measure my worth and the worth of others; luxury and comfort, which anesthetizes and separates me from the pain and suffering of my brothers and sisters in this broken world.
Social media, which, however shiny and fun, eats up too much of my time and can slowly replace my Gospel values with vanity, superficiality, and comparative despair.
Today’s readings remind me that when my back is pressed up against the wall and the world asks me to serve these gods and idols, I can respond like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who prefer to dance along with Jesus in the flickering white-hot flames. Even for us Lenten series readers and people of good will, the question stares us in the face: who do you serve? And what keeps you from, with reckless abandon, jumping into the fire with Christ?
Andrew Shahamiri works in the theology and Christian service departments at Jesuit High School, Sacramento.