Daniel’s Disciplines

Monday, April 8, 2013 — Week of 2 Easter

William Augustus Muhlenberg and Anne Ayers, Priest, 1877, Religious, 1896

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 958)

Psalms 1, 2 3 (morning) // 4, 7 (evening)

Daniel 1:1-21

1 John 1:1-10

John 17:1-11

We open our reading of Daniel today with a story that would sound familiar to any immigrant, including those of us who understand our primary citizenship to be with God in Christ even as we live in the world but not of the world.

Daniel is among four noble youths chosen from the exiled Jewish community in Babylon being recruited for training in the king’s service. They will be fully immersed into the new Chaldean culture. They will have to compete in terms of that culture’s strengths and values. How will they do that and also retain their essential identity and character as Jews?

As happens so often among immigrants, they are given new names, Babylonian names. They accept and use their new identity in their external activities. But the story as passed along in the book of Daniel retains their Hebrew names in the narrative. That seems important to me. The four young men accept some of the features of their new, secular world and adapt externally in order to function more effectively, but they retain their internal identity, the Jewish names given to them as children of God. They learn the language, literature and customs of their environment, but maintain the core essence of their identity as God’s children.

The four young men enter into their training, in competition with others, presumably from other exiled cultures. They set a boundary in order to maintain their moral independence from the part of the Babylonian culture that would defile them. To eat the king’s food would be to internalize the defilement of the Babylonian culture. Daniel asks for a conscience clause. If he and the others can perform with comparable strength and vigor while maintaining the dietary discipline of their faith, would they be allowed the freedom of their conscience? The chief official lets them test their proposal, and he finds the young Hebrews to be more healthy and robust than their competitors on the king’s diet. Daniel and his friends maintain their practice, and it strengthens them. (In a similar issue among the early Christian community, Paul came to a different conclusion, believing that eating meat dedicated to idols was an indifferent matter since we know the idols do not exist.)

How might we use this story of Daniel and his companions as we negotiate our living as strangers in an alien land. We are citizens of a heavenly kingdom and children of God living in Christ. Yet we live in a foreign land with its own idols, values, language, and competitions. How do we maintain our essential identity in Christ? Where do we set boundaries to maintain our moral independence?

Our American culture is certainly as materialistic and competitive as the empire of Nebuchadnezzar. Our culture fully embraces the values of pride and power, the worship of money and appearance, the distractions of entertainment and sports as certainly as any pagan culture of past history. How do we maintain our identity as followers of Christ? How do we fast from the diet of excess and greed in order to feed on the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? (Galatians 5:22-23)

Like Daniel and his companions, can we learn the language and compete in the culture of our exile, yet retain our identity as children of God and live according to Christ’s example of love and compassion? How do we protect our identity? Where do we set our moral boundaries? Or will we simply be assimilated into the prevailing values and behavior of our environment?

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