Homily for Red Wednesday, 34th Week in OT, Feast of the holy Martyrs St. Andrew Dunc-Lac and Companions, 24 November 2021, Luke 21,12-19
Yesterday I told you about a funny scene in our first reading about the prophet Daniel reconstructing the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar and interpreting it. Today we have yet another funny story from the same book, this time about the Belshazzar the son of Nebuchadnezzar, who is behaving like he has totally forgotten the many bad things his tyrant father had done to the Israelite people when he was the King of Babylon.
It was his father who plundered Israel, destroyed the temple of Jerusalem, and stole all the treasures in it. Of course, through the passing of time, after his father had died already, Belshazzar probably thought his father’s crimes had been forgotten already. He was wrong. The Israelite people may have forgotten, but not God.
And so, one day, he took out all the precious silver and golden vessels his father had stolen and organized a party, splurged on wining and dining using these sacred vessels of the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. He flaunted his wealth and his family’s loot with absolutely no qualms of conscience. The writer says they also did this while worshipping their gods made of gold and silver and other precious metals and stones that had also been stolen by his father.
The situation is supposed to be scary but the writer makes it sound really funny by infusing a lot of humor to the storytelling. He tells us that a human hand suddenly appeared from out of nowhere and started writing a message on the wall using its fingers.
As a storyteller myself, I would probably have embellished the story with more details to make it more humorous. I would have made the hand appear with a golden goblet full of wine, proposing a toast for Belshazzar, putting down the goblet, dipping its fingers in the wine and writing a message on the plastering of the wall.
What follows is a funny description of the horrified son of the tyrant. Listen to how the storyteller describes him, “When he saw the wrist and the hand that wrote, his face turned very pale, his thoughts terrified him, his hip joints shook and his knees knocked.” He is being portrayed like a scared little boy. (Namutla sa sindak, nanginig ang mga kasu-kasuan, at nangatog ang mga tuhod.)
Yesterday we heard of Nebuchadnezzar desperately seeking someone who would recall and interpret his dream for him. He was the father who loved to use power and brute force to command obedience.The son is not even capable of that. He uses the stolen money of his late father in order to bribe his way around. He even promises Daniel a fat reward if he could read and interpret for him the writings on the wall.�
With Daniel before Belshazzar, we have something like a Jesus and Pilate scene all over again. We have a prophet who is calm and serene before a very nervous king. He snubs Belshazzar’s offer of a reward. Obviously, he knew that they were stolen and actually belonged to his people. Daniel says, “You may keep your gifts, Sir. But I will read the writing on the wall for you and tell you what it means.”
Here’s how I paraphrase what he said: “You know well that the vessels you are partying with were stolen by your father. They are sacred temple vessels and you are desecrating them with your profligate lifestyle. You think nobody remembers? You are wrong. God does not forget. And he wants you to know it through the writings on the wall. MENE, THEKEL, UPARSIN, he is warning you that God is about “to put an end to the tyrants” of this world and their cruelty and abuses. “You have been weighed on the scale and have been found wanting.”That line, by the way, is the biblical source for the title of the classic Lino Brocka movie, “TINIMBANG KA NGUNIT KULANG.”
I don’t think you need a lot of imagination to to apply this passage to our present circumstances. Like Daniel, Jesus in today’s Gospel sees through the nakedness and emptiness of the souls of power wielders and power brokers.
On this day that we celebrate Red Wednesday, we honor the martyrdom of 117 courageous Vietnamese martyrs of the 19th century. They were mostly lay people, with some priests and bishops. They were canonized by Pope JP2 for the kind of witnessing that they gave, for love of their faith and their people.
Perhaps if we were to come up with a list of all the Christian martyrs who had courageously faced persecution and death, and write their names with blood, all the walls of this cathedral would not be enough for the hand of God to write them on.
Yesterday, I learned from the coordinator of our Catholic Biblical Federation in SEA that several priests were arrested by the military government of Myanmar. This very moment the federation is holding a meeting to encourage them and support them with prayers. I imagine Jesus talking to them and saying to them exactly what he said 2000 years ago, “I myself will give you wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refuse.”