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DANIEL 3:2.11-20 PSALM 25:4-9 MATTHEW 18:21-35 Daniel 3,our First Reading for today offers a glimpse into the lives of a group of young men led by Azariah whose existence is threatened in a new land. On the surface, the lives of these 3 men are in jeopardy when they are hurled into a fiery furnace for their refusal to worship Emperor Nebuchadnezzar. Beneath the surface, there are many other subtle ways, some quite devastating as well in which these men's existence is threatened. These 3 young men refused to bow down before the King and forsake their God. Amidst very difficult circumstances, they remain faithful to their cultural and religious identity as Jews in the diaspora. The story of Daniel 3 is set against the backdrop of the plight of the exiles during the Babylonian exile after having been forcefully removed from their homeland. The central question here is: How does one survive under foreign empires and ideas? And how does one remain a faithful follower of God amidst all the threats to our Christian identity? Despite the worst kinds of trials and tribulations, these three young men remain faithful to God and refuse to give up their religion because God's faithfulness is with them. If the first servant in today's Gospel passage had relied on the faithfulness of his master to forgive him, he would have also forgiven his fellow servant. Just as these young men were surrounded by threats to their faith in God, we too, today are surrounded by threats that make it difficult to maintain our Christian identity. And the identity of a Christian entails forgiveness, patience, understanding the plight of others and doing to others what has been done to you; but this is not easy due to internal and external factors. The internal factors are mentioned by Jesus in Mark 7:20-23 to be pride, slander, jealousy and folly that come from someone's heart while external factors are seen in the words of Jesus when he says, " I am sending you like sheep among wolves. " In the midst of financial difficulties, are you able to maintain your Christian identity?

In the midst of marital woes, are you able to maintain your Christian identity?

In the midst of personal or political differences are you able to maintain your Christian identity? In the midst of being enticed by sweet offers, are you able to maintain your Christian identity?

Our Christian identity can be threatened in our places of work, in our homes and even in our schools.

Daniel 3 invites us as a community of faith to reflect on the possible long lasting effects of giving in to the threats that surround our faith and Christian identity, and the effect is just one, that is, loss of reality by succumbing to fear.

Maintaining our Christian identity is difficult but important especially in a world that thrives in falsehood and violence. What does Christian identity mean to you? How do you express it? Azariah expressed it through prayer while in a fiery furnace. Are we able to name moments when it has been difficult to express it and what you did to overcome the moments?


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