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Expecting the Unexpected

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Azariah, Hananiah and Mishael in Hebrew) is one of the more thrilling stories of the Hebrew Scriptures. They appear in the Book of Daniel and are among those who maintain the Jewish dietary laws in opposition to the Chaldean King's decree. The king has them thrown into a fiery furnace, but instead of perishing in the flames, they are joined by an angel of the Lord who leads them in singing a song of praise to their God. Astounded by this sight, the king relents and gives praise to the God of Israel.

This story is amazing from several viewpoints. However, perhaps the most amazing is the fact that the three young Jewish men refuse to worship any god but their God. In this instance, it is helpful to remember that gods and goddesses were usually associated with specific geographical areas. Even though they were in exile in Babylon, the three young men refuse to give in to the decree of the foreign king. They will worship only the God of Israel, even though they are not in Israel. This "theological" development points toward the universality of God's reign. Their God is the God of all, not simply of their country. Their plight and the way they conduct themselves points toward Jesus. They trusted that God would come to their rescue. They even advert to the fact that perhaps they will die. However, God it is their contention that if this is what God wants, they are perfectly willing to give up their lives in obedience to their God. This same kind of obedience is exemplified in Jesus as he accepts the cross. In the Book of Daniel, unlike Jesus, the three young men do not perish. Even though Jesus does perish, he is raised up.

The Gospel passage for today reveals that the Jews to whom Jesus is talking (the Gospel tells us that they had believed in Jesus at first), cannot move beyond their expectations. They cling to the notion that Abraham and Moses are the ones who have revealed God and God's will to them. They are not able to go beyond their preconceived notions. Despite the fact that their history is filled with examples of God acting in an unexpected manner, they refuse to accept Jesus as the one who is sent by God.

All too often we find ourselves in a similar situation. God does not follow the path of the usual, the expected. God chooses the weak and makes them strong. God chooses the least likely and uses them for God's purposes. The one who came to die for our sins was God in the flesh. Is there anything more unexpected than this? The next time we find our preconceived notions challenged, it would be good to take note of the fact that God acts in ways that confound the normal, the usual, the ordinary.

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