Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Lent
By Colleen O'Sullivan
Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed, “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.” (Daniel 3:95)
Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him, “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)
“The Father uttered one Word; that Word is His Son, and He utters Him forever in everlasting silence: and in silence the soul has to hear it.”
(St. John of the Cross)
In the New Jerusalem Bible, Jesus’ words today to the Jews are: “If you make my word your home, you will indeed be my disciples.” When I read that translation, the old saying “home is where the heart is” popped into my mind. The Lord yearns for our hearts to rest in his word. There is nothing he longs for more than for us to be his disciples.
Although we are approaching the end of Lent, there is still time to examine our hearts. Where do our hearts feel most at home? I’m sure we’d all like to say we live in God’s word, but the truth is that there are many temptations to make our homes elsewhere. If only they were all as blatantly obvious as that in today’s reading from the Book of Daniel.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are three young Jews working as administrators under the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar commissions an idol, a golden calf. He then demands that all government officials bow down before the idol and worship it at its dedication service. The three Jews refuse to worship any god other than their God and are then thrown into a superheated furnace as punishment. Their faith saves them when God sends an angel to rescue them from the flames. This amazes the Babylonian king and causes him to call God blessed and to exclaim at the unwavering loyalty of these three civil servants. They would die before denying their God and bowing down before any other.
A glittering, golden statue of a calf is hard to miss. Should we be faced with one, I think we would all know to run in the other direction. The evil spirit knows that, too, and so works to tempt us in much subtler fashion, just as he tempted Jesus during his 40 days in the desert. The evil one takes the messages of our culture and uses them to lure us away from our home in God’s word. The American dream, for example, is that through hard work we will become successful and prosperous and be rewarded with upward social mobility. We have only to look around the many government and private sector offices in the Washington, DC, area to see people spending 8, 10, 12 hours a day trying to make that dream come true. What’s wrong with hard work? Nothing, as long as you’re “practicing the presence of God,” as Brother Lawrence urged, or doing it for the greater glory of God. However, the evil one messes with our heads until we find ourselves working for the greater glory of ourselves instead. And if the evil spirit works diligently enough within us, pretty soon we’re also looking down on those who aren’t as materially successful or prosperous. When we’ve gotten to that point, we’ve successfully been seduced, and our hearts are residing far from their home in God’s word.
The evil spirit uses other cultural messages as well to lure us away from the Lord. Look on any bookstore website, watch any talk show in the afternoon, and you’ll see and hear lots of messages about how we can improve our lives, how we can be in control. I guarantee you from experience that the minute we think we’ve got everything under control and our lives are going just how we want them to, something will happen to remind us how far our hearts really are from the Lord. The faithful people in the Gospels, the ones Jesus heals and whose sins he forgives, aren’t masters of self-control or self-importance. They’re the ones who throw themselves on the Lord’s mercy and rely on his words for direction.
Make some time today to examine your heart. Where does your heart reside? If the answer is anywhere other than the word of the Lord, ask the Holy Spirit to use these last days of Lent to guide you home to the only place where you really belong.