Scripture: 1st Reading: Daniel1,1-6,8-20; Resp. Psalm: Daniel3,29-34; Gosp. Accl.: Mt24,42,44; Gospel: Lk21,1-4
The word today directs our minds towards the importance of fidelity and steadfastness to God. Nebuchadnezzar deported Jehoiakim king of Judah and his people to Babylon. He commanded his chief eunuch to select some youths from the deported Jewish community to serve in his palace. Among these youths were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. They were to be taught for three years the letters and language of the Chaldeans. They were to be served food from the king's table.
These four youths however knew that the food from the king's table was unclean food. In consequence, they decided not to defile their bodies with the food from table of a pagan king. They preferred to go on austere food, on vegetables and water. This kind of ascetic and spare food allowed their souls to grow and advance towards perfection and union with God.
There are lessons for us here. There are believers who eat at all the tables of this world, and especially at the table of evil people, people of ill gotten wealth, dubious material possessions, fraudulent power and authority. There are believers who care less about the demands of faith, morality and righteousness where the advancement of their personal comfort is concerned.
These "believers" forget that their lives are transitory. They fail to understand that it profits a man nothing to gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah decided not to sell their consciences on the altar of "political correctness and expendiency". They decided to be different and make a difference with their lives. Even in the foreign where they were taken as captives, they still believed it was their duty to be true to the tenets of their religion and to their God. Even though they knew their captivity was as a result of the sins of their nation, they were thus not pushed to abandon faith and turn their backs on God.
God rewarded their steadfastness. At the end of ten days, they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh with their vegetables-only diet than all the youths who ate the king's rich food. Even more than this, because their bodies were not encumbered and weighed down by earthly food and drink, "God gave them learning and skill in all letters and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams."
The word of God today states it categorically that from the day that their preparation to serve in the king's palace ended, these four youths became admitted into Nebuchadnezzar's presence as his chief servants, "and in every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom."
These four youths chose the wisdom that comes from God over and above the foolishness that men call wisdom. They made a preferential choice for Yahweh. This is the same thing we find in the life of the widow in today's gospel passage. To this widow, the temple tax was more important than her life and sustenance. The first and primary duty of her life was to God and she believed she should spare nothing in fulfilling that duty.
The rich were putting in a tiny fraction of what they had into the temple treasury for the maintenance of the temple. This widow put in two copper coins and was the only one commended by our Lord. In the words of our Lord, "this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had."
Many believers eat and drink themselves to their grave. We consume anything that comes our way. Our stomachs have become our gods. We drink anything without consideration for our physical and spiritual health. We forget that one of the lessons from the lives of the prophets, Apostles and Saints is frugality in matters of food. When we deny ourselves legitimate food, we free our souls to fly towards God and advance swiftly in perfection.
The word calls us to total giving today, like the four youths in the first reading and the widow in the gospel. It calls us to total trust in the providence of God to reward us for our steadfastness and fidelity to Him. It calls us to understand that God will never abandon those who put the affairs of the kingdom first in all their dealings. It teaches us that God will surely bless us if we put Him as the first priority of our lives.
Let us pray: O God our heavenly Father, we thank you for the examples of the four youths and the widow in today's word. Guide our steps away from obsession with food and material possessions. Turn our steps to the life of sacrifice and self-denial that are the hallmarks of holiness and quick advancement towards you. Make us ready to serve you always. Amen.
May the Living Word of God find a true dwelling place within our hearts and souls today and always.