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Daniel 14: Bel and the Dragon

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Rembrandt: Daniel and Cyrus Before the Idol Bel

“These stories are caricatures.  They should not be taken as accurate descriptions of Babylonian religion . . . The Babylonians in the stories are excessively stupid, and their devices are too easily exposed.  The story of the dragon shares the Daniel 6 the motif of the lions’ den, but does not necessarily depend on the earlier chapter.  All we can say is that Daniel was associated with the lions’ den in oral tradition, and that both these stories make use of the motif.  Bel and the Dragon is more fantastic than Daniel 6 . . . These fantastic elements give the story a light-hearted quality, but the background here is more tense than in Daniel 1 – 6.  Daniel confronts the Babylonian religion a way that he never does in the earlier chapters . . . There is a sense here that Judaism and paganism are fundamentally incompatible”.  (Senior RG 351)

We humans always want a contest; we look for heroes to champion and causes to support.  We are willing – and even eager – to take sides and create divisions.  We cry out for peace and unity but too often we fight for separation, isolation, and a sense of superiority or elite privilege.  We seem to be comfortable with a certain degree of “clubiness” in the circles of friends and family that we form.  Someone is always “in” or “out” depending on a morphing list of requirements that we often keep secret even from the “members” of our circle.  We are reluctant to embrace the universal model that Jesus lives.  We shun those who are different and give lip service to diversity.  The stories we read today – with their hyperbole and stereotypes – might be fodder for our late night comics or talk show political pundits and in that sense they are too extreme to be true; yet they hold a mirror up to us that we might see ourselves not so much as the character of Daniel but as those who would dupe the King.  The corrupt priests and the families take advantage of a generous monarch; those who worship the dragon become consumed by their jealousy and passion.  We might take a lesson from all of this.

False gods, false priests, jealous colleagues, spiteful associates are plentiful in our lives.  The lions’ den may suddenly be found in our home, our place of worship or work.  Dragons haunt the lonely places of the heart; yet . . . The true and living God is ever-present; but we seem to forget this.  The one all-powerful and infinite God is always with us; but we often fail to show that we believe this.  The merciful and intimate one and only God is within us; but we behave us as though we do not believe this.

And so we pray.

Good and generous God, keep us from any elitism that separates us from the world around us; guide us in welcoming others into our hearts.

Dear and loving God, help us to guard against the temptation to exclude or eliminate others from our lives; show us how to welcome those who are different from ourselves.

Wise and abiding God, remind us that none of us can afford to isolate ourselves from others; tell us often that wounds heal, anxieties ebb away, and love stitches up the empty places in our lives.  Amen.


A re-post from November 17, 2012.

Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990. RG 351. Print.   

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