5th Wednesday of Lent
You are trying to kill me, says Jesus, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. The truth that the liturgy would have us focus on is the one presented in the first reading: those who love God and trust in him must love him and trust him even to the end, even when they are brought face to face with apparently hopeless defeat. The servants of God may be saved from death, but even if not, they must prefer death to abandoning the faith, and they will save their own souls. For it is the truth which will make them free, not the mandate of some government bureaucrat.
King Nebuchadnezzar asked, Who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands? The question is a direct challenge and defiance of the true God. The three men make a courageous reply: If our God, whom we serve, can save us 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.
When they say if our God can save us, it does not imply any doubt as to God’s power. The phrase if he can means “if He can do it in accordance with His own plans”. The three men knew very well that God was able to deliver them, as He saved their ancestors at the Red Sea and many times since.
But they were also well aware that in many cases it has not been God’s purpose to save his servants from the danger of death, and that it would be far better for them to enter heaven as martyrs, just as it would be far better for His own Son to suffer death. The three men accepted the possibility that it was the will of God that they too should suffer death at the hands of their persecutors, as so many of God’s servants had done before them, and they were cheerfully willing to face that prospect head on. From that point of view, the five words even if he will not are among the most sublime in the entire Bible. They represent the truth that the one who trusts in God will continue to say, with Job, “Even if He slays me, yet will I trust Him”. This is the triumph of faith over all the bureaucrats and adversaries.
Read during these final days of Lent, when Christians are the most persecuted minority in the world, the first reading gives us a precious insight into Our Lord’s own attitude to his approaching passion and death. Like the three men, Jesus too believed that the things of this world are not to be compared with the happiness that comes from obedience to the Father’s will.
And wherever there are any true disciples of Jesus, they too have never shrunk from accepting death rather than the disgrace of complying with what God despises and abhors. This is the spirit that sustained all the martyrs of every age. By “the irresistible might of their weakness”, they have shaken the secular world.