What does the gentleman in Rome who combined these two readings today hope to achieve by putting them side by side?
The story of the three youths thrown into the fiery furnace seems pretty clear—it is a test of gods. My god’s bigger than your god. King Nebuchadnezzar picks a fight: my gods, ably assisted by a fiery furnace, will knock the socks off you three and your strange invisible deity. We’ll see who has the power to destroy and the power to save. And we, who inherit the story, are glad to know our god is the winner. We have a God who can preserve our lives from anything—even a blast furnace.
Dissolve now from Babylon to Palestine… Isn’t this the same story? Those nasty Jews want to kill Jesus as a test of true paternity—who has the toughest father—the sons of Abraham or the Son of God? And John’s gospel is often read as a tit-for-tat escalation between John’s community and the Jews next door—my God’s bigger than your God.
But if that were true, what would it make Jesus? When it comes to the test—cross not furnace—where’s his angel; where’s his rescuer? Even the strange doings of the third day don’t add up to the kind of victory to convince any but the converted.
This dialogue between the Jews and Jesus can’t be the excuse for anti-Semitism it has been. And Jesus can’t be playing our games: my Dad’ll thrash your Dad. What is on trial here isn’t one god against another but the very idea of paternity, the very idea that our belonging, our fatherland, our heritage is what marks us as God’s own. God’s Own are the sisters and brothers of Jesus in every generation and every land and every religion. It is our fraternity with Jesus that is all in all to us. Jesus undoes all other belongings, un-knits all other paternities, and unravels the web of our sacrificial violence. He undoes it here in words and seals those words with his body and blood on the altar of the cross.
Add comment March 20th, 2002