I have always been fond of the names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
I’m not sure why, but they seem to delight the tongue when speaking them.
Yet, delightful as the pronouncing may be, the story is one of earnest seriousness.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego prefer death to idolatry. They would
rather end their own lives than serve the god of King Nebuchandnezzar.
Although God saves them by sending his angel, the three did not know that
this is what God would do. In this sense, they were the true sons of
Abraham that Jesus speaks of in the reading from John.
The connection between these two readings is not immediately apparent, but
it seems to turn on the topic of true religion. The Jews in the narrative
insist that they are children of Abraham and Jesus insists that they are not
because of their plotting. These individuals, unlike Shadrach, Meshach,
and Abednego, “have no room among [them]” for the word of God. By implication
they are worshiping god falsely. They are deceived. They think
they have the truth, and they think the are free, but, according to Jesus,
they have not and are not. These particular Jews are content with their
identity—they are not born of fornication. That is, they are not gentiles.
They believe that this is enough to bring favor with God. Jesus disagrees.
It seems to me to not be much of a stretch to suggest that this overconfidence
in their identity at the expense of God’s word is a form of idolatry.
As I read the Gospel for the first time and began to put this reflection
together, I at first assumed that the Jews Jesus was speaking to must be Scribes
or Pharisees, but they are not. Read it again. “Jesus said to
those Jews who believed in him...” It would appear that in this context
those plotting against him were people who believed in him. Ouch!
As one who tries to follow Jesus, in reading this I am forced to wonder,
what are my idolatries that enslave? We may not feel smug about not
being a gentile, but there are plenty of ways that we ensure that “the word
has no room among us.” Maybe we are overconfident in our particular
brand of Christianity and beat others up with our confidence. Maybe
we never defend our faith. Maybe we are uncritical materialists and
spend money recklessly and irresponsibly. Maybe we think God really loves
us because we live a simple life. Maybe we are oblivious to the plight
of the poor. Maybe we think we are special because we serve the poor.
The list goes on and on.
To me, the lesson that comes at the confluence of these readings is simple:
the challenge to choose not to worship false gods, as Shadrach, Meshach, and
Abednego so chose, remains an active challenge for us. It is also much
harder than it may at first appear.