Homily Wednesday of the 5th Sunday of Lent: Michael U. UdoekpoReadings: Dan 3:1-20, 91-92, 95; Dan 3:52-56 and John 8:31-42
Faithfulness to GodToday we celebrate our last Wednesday’s/ Community Mass in Lent, 2014. And a few days from now we enter the Passion Week, the most Sacred Week during which the Church invites us to contemplate the victories and the glorious meaning of Christ’s paschal mysteries. Our Scripture readings this morning anticipates these mysteries. Emphasis is on true discipleship and fidelity to Christ, the sacrament of the God of Shedrach, Medrach and Abednego. Fidelity to Christ when the going is rough and tough: more classes to attain, papers to write, final exams to prepare, thesis proposal to submit, integrated seminar to present, your advisors to consult with, rector’s conferences and faculty meetings to attain, MA students to direct, Dehonianism to promote, your ordinations to prepare for, our sponsors to collaborate with, our various duties and administrative responsibilities to carry out, and of course the decorum of a Catholic Seminary Institution like ours, to uphold.
In that first reading, a beautiful piece of Midrash, that speaks directly to our faith, Daniel’s three companions: Shedrach, Medrach and Abednego refuse to play idolatry in exile (Dan 3:14-20, 91-92, 95). They remain faithful to their God and refuse to worship idols and the gods of Nechadnezzar. For their punishment, they are thrown into the white-hot furnace to be roasted to death. Miraculously, they are not burnt to dead. The fire rather devoured those who carried out this evil, while Shedrach, Medrach and Abednego, through divine intervention came out alive, praising God in today’s responsorial Psalm, to the amazement of Nechadnezzar who also praises God, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego!
For me the most important lesson in this faith story is not only for modern Christians to watch out for our modern idolatries which could come in form of: abuse of sex, power, and worship of money and material things, sycophancy, and frivolous entertainment in places of worship. We are also invited to brave fidelity to Jesus and his Church particularly in those difficult circumstances of our day, time and culture. The faith and the resilience of Shedrach, Medrach and Abednego in a hostile culture like then Babylon- also raises the question of how do we today maintain fidelity to our religious heritage, our vows and values when the very structure of our society run counter to the basic element of our faith? Or, when we are confronted with daily challenges, even here in Seminary Community?
There may not be easy answers to these questions except those offered by Johannine Christ in today’s Gospel. Jesus addresses both his opponents and those crypto- converts who believe in him, yet with a faint and shaky faith. Those who say, " I do believe in Jesus, but I can’t profess him openly." I am not sure! I don’t want to be prosecuted! I don’t want to lose my job. I don’t want to offend my neighbors of other religions, even though I don’t feel offended when my neighbors of other religion profess their faith! We have seen this before in Nichodemus who went to Jesus at night in John 3. We have seen this in the Pharisees, and in the Scribes, the opponents of Jesus. We saw this a few Sundays ago in the parents of the man born blind in John 9. A shaky faith! Last Sunday Martha, Lazarus’ sister, said to Jesus, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died (John 11).
Thank God our Lord is always here! As believers the Jesus of John makes clear to us the terms of a believing disciples. The Christ of John does not seek short terms followers and pursuance of fake freedom and false liberty. As the giver of true freedom, Jesus does not glory in superficial faith, empty legalism, and false dependencies on national pride. It is not enough to say, “We have Abraham as our father. We are call, rather, to imitate the faithfulness and righteousness exemplified by Abraham. Johannine Jesus does not seek easy starters, who fall by the way side when the journey to Jerusalem gets rough. Christ’s disciples must recognize themselves as sinners, grow-up, abide and remain in his Word at all times if they are to be a part of his company. The more reason he says, “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” (v.31).
Christ’s disciples must stick with Christ, at all times, hear what he teaches, abide with his values and be at home with him! In John, remaining with Christ means not only hearing, but it also means of obeying Him. It means sitting at his feet, living under the authority of Christ. It means being patient! It means endurance. It implies running away from sins. It means perseverance in our studies, in our work, in our love and respect for one another. It is only through such obedience will the disciple know the truth. And the deepest knowing comes not only by memorizing theological concepts, writing good papers, or parsing verbs, nouns and adjectives, or by delivering sweet homilies. These are also important. But the deepest knowing of Christ comes by doing the will of Christ in a joyful freedom, by being faithful to him, by encountering him in our neighbors, in our daily works and studies, and by yielding to his truth, by deeply remaining faithful to Christ even in moments of flames of temptations to sin and furnace frustrations.Therefore, let us pray at this Mass that as we approach the Passion Week, Christ the Sacrament of the God of Shedrach, Medrach and Abednego may increase our hope and inspire us to fidelity to always say, preach and do things that show us to be faithful children of God.