Homily for Thursday of the 34th Week in OT, 25 November 2021, Luke 21,20-28
Please read the whole of chapter 6 of the book of Daniel if you really want to understand our first reading today. It is now about Daniel himself, and how he emerges from a victim to a victor of power play in government. This time, the author puts us in the time of King Darius, whom he mistakenly calls a “king of the Median empire”; Darius was actually a king of the Persian empire.
The author gives us a little background; he tells us about the king’s clever strategy of governance—how he appointed 120 satraps (perhaps the equivalent of our modern day mayors) whom he made accountable to three ministers (perhaps the equivalent of governors) who, in turn, were directly accountable to him. Daniel is one of the three.
Of the three ministers, the one whom the king found most trustworthy was Daniel. He was apparently so good at governance that the king wanted to put him in charge of the whole kingdom, on his behalf. This is what causes the power struggle to take place.
The author tells us the other ministers and satraps “tried to find grounds for accusation against Daniel.” (This is a good illustration of what we Filipinos call “crab mentality”, which is an insult to crabs.) Listen to how the author describes their sinister moves and tell me if it does not ring a bell or sound familiar to you:
“Because Daniel was trustworthy, they could not find any trace of misdeeds or corruption in him.” And so his enemies make a move to create a law that they could use against Daniel. In modern political language, this is what people call “weaponizing the law.”
Since the enemies were aware that Daniel—the Jewish exile who became a court attendant and rose through the ranks to become one of the highest officials in government—practiced his Jewish faith, they would pass a bill that the king could not veto. Namely,“that for thirty days, all acts of worship were to be declared illegal, except the worship of the king.” They were even clever enough to convince the king that this was part of tradition.
To cut the long story short, the king signed the prohibition into a law. Now it could be used as a weapon against Daniel.
Actually, Daniel had no problem with this law. He did his own prayers as a Jew in the privacy of his home anyway. Three times a day, Daniel withdrew in his bed room, and there opened the windows to the direction of Jerusalem to pray in solitude. But then of course, his enemies were spying on him. They would have installed hidden CCTV cameras around his house if they had lived in the time of digital technology. In short, they did some intelligence work on him so that they could find some evidence to use against him.
The author says they stormed into his bedroom to catch him praying to the God of Israel. When he is charged of an offense, the king is saddened because Daniel was his favorite minister. However, because he had signed the Royal Prohibition into a law, he had to implement it. He had to allow Daniel to be submitted to the most horrible kind of death penalty, which was, to have him thrown into a den of lions.
By some twist of fate, the story ends happily for Daniel and tragically for his enemies. Apparently, the lions did not find Daniel appetizing. I remember a classmate in our biblical course on Daniel proposing to our professor that Daniel must have put on a very strong kind of perfume that the lions detested. The professor laughed and said, “Actually you are right that the appetite of lions could be either triggered or turned off by particular types of smell.”
That was what got me into thinking that maybe Daniel’s daily discipline of prayer gave him a sense of equanimity and serenity even in the face of trials. They say your worst enemy when face to face with a ferocious lion is fear itself. That’s when your body emits a kind of odor that actually triggers or increases their appettite.
The lesson related to Daniel’s emergence from victim to victor is stated well in our Gospel today. In the face of adversities, the surest way to perish is by being overcome by fear. Luke says, “people will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world.” (This makes me think of people who are screaming of pain already, even before the vaccination syringe touches them. Or people who are already squirming in pain before the dentist could even start drilling on a tooth.)
The tip of Jesus in the Gospel is probably the same thing that Daniel did in the lion’s den: “Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” The closest historical parallel that I can think of is Jose Rizal, who stood with dignity before his executioners and raised his head. We’re told that he even twisted his body to have a glimpse of the rising sun before he fell on the ground.
Not only did he succeed in closing the mouth of the colonial lion. His death became the spark that ignited the fire that eventually drove away the lions.