Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent

Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart;
for I am gracious and merciful

Today’s first reading presents Azariah’s prayer from the Book of Daniel. Of the 211 words only four allude directly to the sins of Israel, “…because of our sins.” The rest of the prayer recalls God’s shepherding care of his people and their sorry plight.
The book was written many years after the Babylonian Captivity; their current plight was religious persecution following the Greek invasion. Like the Christians of Europe and the Muslims of Africa and Asia, builders of the Greek empire thought it reasonable to impose one religion on all their subject nations. One religion would reinforce the empire's spiritual infrastructure and lend divine authority to its laws.

The Jews, however, didn’t buy it. Their God would not give up on them, nor would his Spirit allow them to quit on him. They had been through too much – from slavery in Egypt to the glory of Solomon’s rule and the humiliation of a second exile – to abandon their history and be absorbed into an ahistorical, mindless groupthink.
Throughout their history and ours, the Jews have always been that pariah people who will not and cannot accept everything that secular authorities tell them. They know there is only one God and it’s not Nebuchadnezzar, Caesar, Louis XIV, Stalin, Hitler or the American Constitution.
And so, while Azariah alludes to the sins of the Jewish nation, the real problem is the oppression of conquerors, and the solution is God’s mighty hand:
“Deliver us by your wonders,
and bring glory to your name, O Lord."
The people of God, both Jewish and Christian, are always tempted to go along to get along, to believe what their fellow citizens believes, to obey whoever rules the land, and suppose their conformity satisfies God. The crisis comes when Christian nations war with one another, Protestants on Protestants and Catholics on Catholics. How do their pastors explain this scandal to the faithful?

Many thoughtful Christians simply quit attending church. Nominally believing in “God,” they find other values to celebrate like family, laws and patriotism. They suppose these values are universal and the one God should agree.

Azariah’s prayer recalls those martyrs, Jewish and Christian, who continue to worship God even in a foreign land. To be faithful we must remember we are strangers and sojourners, just passing through this particular nation, on our way to the Kingdom of Heaven. We should be a blessing to our nation without embracing its sins.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.