The story of the Book of Daniel details the adventures of four faithful Israelites who have to navigate the dangers and intrigues of the court of the king of Babylon, chief among these four faithful Israelites is the prophet Daniel.
Daniel and his companions prove themselves time and time again to be up to the challenges of their circumstances and gain not only the attention of the king, but the animosity of their fellow courtiers. Resentment builds against Daniel and his friends and this leads to the dire situation described in the first scripture the Church assigns for today, an excerpt from the Book of Daniel.
The enemies of Daniel’s friends point out to the king that the Israelites are in respects to Babylonian culture essentially heathens. They will not worship the gods and goddesses of the Babylonians, a refusal which is an act of treason, the penalty for which is death.
Daniel’s friends are given the opportunity to save their lives, but this will mean compromising their profession of faith in the God of Israel as the one, true God. This they refuse to do and they are willing to accept death rather than deny their faith in the God of Israel!
The penalty for their treason is to be cast alive into a blazing hot fiery furnace. Thrown into that furnace, should have meant a terrible death, but not for Daniel’s friends! They are rescued and kept safe by a mysterious person who looks like an angel of the lord, what the scripture describes as a creature having the appearance of a “son of God”.
What is this story all about?
The Church understand the story as a foreshadowing or anticipation of Christ. The furnace represents the power of death, which destroys life, and the angel represents Christ, who descends with us into death and in doing so effects our rescue from the power of death.
This is the meaning of a great revelation of an event that the Church calls the Paschal Mystery. The Paschal Mystery is the descent of Christ into death on the cross, a death he accepts so that he might place the full power of his divine life into the experience of death itself. Christ does this so that when we enter ourselves into the experience of death he is there, present and waiting for us. Death is not an experience of annihilation, but because of Christ it is an experience of transformation.
This is what the Paschal Mystery reveals and the Church will display this mystery to us in the great, solemn observances of Holy Week.
Christ states something quite extraordinary in his Gospel- he will extend the promises of the covenant of the Abraham to include not only those who are physical descendents of the great, Israelite patriarch, but to all whom he claims as his own- be they Israelite or Gentile.
One of the great revelation of God in Christ is that he will transform Israel, making of it something new and unexpected. Israel will become the Church, and in becoming the Church will draw all the nations into a relationship with God in Christ. This is what it means to say that the Church is the “people of God”- it means that the Church is a new, kind of Israel and should be understood as such.
The Church is not incidental to Christ’s revelation and it does not emerge as an accident. The Church is essential to Christ’s saving work, for Christ has determined that it is through the Church that the world will come to know him, and in knowing him, share holy communion with God.
It is the purpose, the mission of the Church to introduce the world to Christ and invite people to share the divine life of Christ by partaking of the Sacraments of the Church. What we do this, we are accomplishing the Church’s mission. When we do this we are evangelizing.
The Church is not a club, faith-based non for profit, or religious discussion group. The Church does not exist to serve our interests or causes. What is the Church?
The Church is the new Israel, a people chosen by Christ to become the missionary disciples through whose witness the world will be invited to share communion with his own, divine life.