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Struggle and Consolation
The homily today explores the connection between receiving forgiveness and giving forgiveness. Going Behind the Word provides information about Azariah.
Going Behind the Word
Just who was Azariah? This was a very common name in the Old Testament, appearing in many different contexts. The Azariah we encounter today in the Book of Daniel is a little interesting in that he is identified by two names, not one. Azariah is the Hebrew name, changed by King Nebuchadnezzar to Abednego. “The chief chamberlain changed their names: Daniel to Belteshazzar, Hananiah to Shadrach, Mishael to Meshach, and Azariah to Abednego.“
And so Azariah was a companion to Daniel, Hananiah, and Mishael. The name was changed to conform more to Babylonian practices, with the hope they would abandon the Hebrew faith. Each of the name changes is a reference to the Babylonian form of worship.
Daniel, whose name becomes Belteshazzar, can be translated as the protector of the king. Bel is the name (and title) given to a number of gods worshipped in Babylon. Azariah, whose name is changed to Abednego is a connection to the Babylonian god Nebo. Interestingly, both Nebuchadnezzar and Abednego both are connected to this god Nebo.
But any attempt to make the young men turn away from God is pointless. The are strong in their faith, and deeply committed to following the Jewish law and way of life. For example, they will not eat the meat offered by the king for fear these animals have been offered to idols or still have blood in them.
And in the most dramatic rejection of the desire of the King to make them Babylonian, they refuse to bow down to the golden statue made by King Nebuchadnezzar. The penalty for this refusal was to be cast into a fiery hot furnace.
This would seem to be a terrible end to the lives of these young men. But despite being cast into the fiery hot furnace, they do not die. They are protected by God even able to be walking around in the midst of these very hot flames.
And it is after they have been saved that we arrive at today’s reading. And in it, Azariah makes the great prayer. It is both a prayer of thanksgiving and a prayer that reaffirms the great faith of these young men. If we thought this was only about the joy of being saved, we miss the rest of the story.
For they have suffered, and they have remained close to the Jewish way of life. They have stayed close to God, and their faith has only grown stronger. They are believers and they see the covenant relationship with God to be the most important thing in their lives.
It provides a unique and wonderful message for each of us. This is particularly significant during this time we are in. As we engage in acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and because we are about halfway through the season, it is a good time to take a step back to evaluate ourselves and the way in wish we are living.
There is so much suffering and brokenness, and so many, especially in Ukraine and elsewhere who are facing the unbelievable violence. They are in a fiery hot furnace, and we have seen their courage. This should be great hope for us.
It should also raise the idea that we need to be connected in doing all we can in order to stand with them in prayer and charitable actions. While we have seen these images, and these difficult circumstances, they can fade into so much background if we do not focus on the need for prayer.
Some of us are probably in these moments of extreme brokenness. Some of us may find life very difficult to bear. Some may even find it quite difficult to even pray in the same way. But every time we remember God and seek out his presence, we can be renewed.
And more than this, we also need to be attentive to those times when God is very present and active in our lives. Such was the beauty of the prayer in today’s first reading. It was designed to help all remember the greatness of God, not only in our own age, but in all ages.
In what ways has it been the case that you have felt broken? Where are the ways where you need God to strengthen your faith and be with you in your struggles?
How is it you have wished to experience more fully and completely God’s love and joy? His healing? And how often do you find yourself thanksgiving God for all the goodness and wonder of his presence? Do we thank God for the ways in which we see his presence in the events of our lives? Do we thank God for the people he places in our lives?
This is the lesson we can learn today from the first reading. Life is about seeking God in times when we are broken, and in expressing gratitude when we are blessed.