Questions and Reflections

Category: Daniel

Reflection: The Apocalypse

When we hear the word apocalypse, we usually think about the end of the world. We imagine massive wars, incredible natural disasters, and an unbelievable amount of destruction and anguish. The apocalypse is good for comic books and action movies but it's not, typically, something we want to live through. One of the ways we anticipate the apocalypse is by asking the question: "what will the end look like?" But that wasn't a question the bible really spent a lot of time talking about. Instead, the communities who wrote, read, and shared these biblical words wanted to know: "what is the meaning of our suffering?" Those who contributed apocalypse stories to the Bible (Daniel, Revelation, and even bits of the gospel according to Mark) were trying to find meaning in "their own struggle and suffering" (Revelation: Interpretation Commentary, page 43). 

Today's reading from the book of Daniel 12:1-3 is an attempt to find meaning. Daniel is the youngest book in the Old Testament section of our scriptures. The book was set in the years after Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians (in the aftermath of the year 586 BCE) but it was probably written 400 years after that. Daniel was composed at a time when the Jewish community faced severe persecutions from the ruling authorities. Judaism was outlawed and Torah scrolls were burned. Religious rites were abolished and children were discouraged from gaining the marks that defined them as part of the Jewish community. Rabbis and students were persecuted and killed. The Jewish community, especially the one centered in Jerusalem, tried to make sense of their suffering. The book of Daniel was a response to that suffering and today's text is the beginning of the final scene of Daniel's four visions of the apocalypse. But it's not a vision of the end. It's a vision of a new beginning. 

Daniel's vision of the afterlife is less about details of "what" happens and, instead, is centered in hope. Daniel doesn't try to mask the seriousness of suffering, pain, sadness, and fear. He doesn't say that  what we experience in our life is, somehow, "less real" than it is. Instead, Daniel acknowledges that life can be hard and that following God is not always easy. Our faith requires us to sometimes say "no" to the ways the world try to turn us from God, each other, or call to love the world. There can be a deadly consequence for that "no." But the world doesn't define our value or worth; only God can. And through the Spirit and our relationship with Jesus, we are defined by that connection to the divine. This connection is what gives us a new sense of purpose, love, and hope. This connection is what, today and always, gives us life. 


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A Reflection on Daniel

The First Reading is Daniel 1:1-17.

The Book of Daniel is a fun book that is hard to interpret and understand. The book begins with stories about Daniel and his friends and ends with Daniel trying to understand the visions he's received. The book begins shortly after the king of Judah is deposed by Babylon (about 10 years before Jerusalem's fall). Daniel and 3 friends are, as our reading shares, members of the nobility. They are picked (along with others) out of all the exiles because of their good looks and intelligence. They will be trained to be members of the royal court and to oversee various administrative duties necessary in the Empire. The king provides food and drink for them but Daniel refuses to partake. He, like many immigrants, sees what he eats as a sign of his relationship to where he's come from and who he is. In Daniel's day, meat and other food items were typically offered to the gods before the people. Eating this food means being in relationship with those gods. Daniel wants to follow God so he uses food as a way to stay close to God while living in Babylon.

Food stands in for the line we walk on to be with God. And this line is central to the book of Daniel. When we strip away the difficulties in the book (what the visions stand for, why does Daniel describe events that happen hundreds of years after the Exile, and why is the book written in 2 different languages), the line between walking with God and not, shines through. As the story grows, Daniel is confronted by evil personified by the kings of Babylon. The military and cultural might of Babylon tries to drive Daniel away from God. And this line is easy to cross but, with God's help, Daniel hangs onto God. Even when Daniel is confronted with things he does not understand, like the destruction of Jerusalem, he turns to God in prayer (chapter 9). With God's love, guidance, and grace, we are able to walk with God no matter what hardships come our way. With God's help, we are able to see the line we're called to walk on. And this line with God is, like all lines, infinite in length, showing that evil will never have the final word. God's journey with us continues through today and beyond. 


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