Daniel is saved from the lion’s den; the king recognizes Yahweh as deliverer and saviour, working signs and wonders in heaven and on earth
Then they approached the king and said concerning the interdict, “O king! Did you not sign an interdict, that anyone who prays to anyone, divine or human, within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions?” The king answered, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Then they responded to the king, “Daniel, one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the interdict you have signed, but he is saying his prayers three times a day.” When the king heard the charge, he was very much distressed. He was determined to save Daniel, and until the sun went down he made every effort to rescue him. Then the conspirators came to the king and said to him, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no interdict or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”
Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?” Daniel then said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God.
The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions — they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces. Then King Darius wrote to all peoples and nations of every language throughout the whole world: “May you have abundant prosperity! I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth; for he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
Gospel: Luke 21:20-28
Jerusalem will be destroyed amid signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, as the Son of Man comes on the clouds with power.
“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
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While Mark 13 combines the prophecy about the fall of Jerusalem with that about the end of the world, Luke separates these two events. Writing after the collapse of the Holy City, Luke saw that its destruction did not usher in the final age of the world and the second coming of the Son of Man. His restatement of Jesus’ words enables us to see the status of our own existence, in the time before the final age of the world.
The Book of Daniel draws on older traditions that reached back into the Babylonian exile and had become part of Israel’s heritage. Like Daniel, Israel itself had been preserved alive from the dangers of the lions’ den of the exile. About four hundred years later, during the persecution of Antiochus Epiphanes (who had inherited a part of the empire of Alexander the Great), Israel again experienced horrendous persecution and the collapse of the holy city. The long years in-between, silent, monotonous years, did not seem to have achieved anything. Even though they were marked by intense interest in the law of Moses and an attempt to obey that law punctiliously, now this lowering cloud and whirlwind of destruction swept through their lives again.
Daniel advises the people that God is preparing a letter to the nations and peoples of every language. This letter will proclaim that Yahweh, the God of Israel’s ancestors, is the living God, enduring forever, whose kingdom shall not be destroyed, and his dominion shall be without end. While the monotonous years provide the opportunity to appreciate and safeguard our prayer and fidelity with God, the tempestuous period of trial becomes a divinely appointed way of casting down those walls and sharing our God and our family with the world.
Open to the Lord’s coming
Today’s gospel makes reference to wars and destruction, great upheavals and the fear they generate. Yet, the gospel also speaks about the coming of the Son of Man into the midst of all this darkness and it promises that those who are open to his coming will experience liberation. We all need to be liberated in one sense or another; we all need to be freed from whatever it is that is holding us back from doing what the Lord is calling us to do, from being the person the Lord is calling us to be. It is only the Lord who can free us to live as we are meant to live. Saint Paul speaks about the glorious freedom of the children of God that awaits us beyond this life. Yet, here and now, we can begin to taste the first fruits of that glorious freedom, to the extent that we open our lives to the coming of the Lord and to the coming of his Spirit. Saint Paul also says in another of his letters, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” We are only truly free when we are living in tune with the Spirit of the Lord, when the Holy Spirit is bearing rich fruit in our lives. As we come to the end of the church’s liturgical year and as we begin a new liturgical year, we pray, “Come Holy Spirit.”