Thought for the Day by Kevin Ward (St Michael’s)
THE FIERY FURNACE
The three young Jewish men were arrested by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Their crime – their stubborn refusal to abandon the worship of the Almighty God and worship the gods of the Babylonians. They were unwilling to abandon their special identity as Jews. This is one of the first recorded examples of anti-Semitism: they were good, high-ranking courtiers, valued by the king, and had committed no crime. But they became the target of abuse and envy on the basis of their ethnicity and distinctive religious practices. The Jewish people, a vulnerable minority in most societies, have down the ages been the target of xenophobia, fear of those who are different. The holocaust, the Showa, in modern times, has shown us that such discrimination has terrible consequences. The recent report on Anti-Semitism in the Labour Party in our own country is a stark warning of our need to be on guard against the resurgence of discrimination against Jews in our own contemporary society.
The picture above of the three young men in the fiery furnace protected by an angelic figure (a Christlike figure) is a fresco from a medieval Nubian cathedral in Sudan, now submerged under the waters of the Aswan dam on the River Nile. The fresco is preserved in the national museum of Khartoum. Further up the Nile in Buganda, the story of the three young men was important when the first converts of Christianity were persecuted for their Christian witness, on the orders of the king, Kabaka Mwanga, in 1886. The majority of the martyrs were young courtiers at the palace. They refused to compromise their faith, and literally faced their own fiery furnace, when they were burnt to death. They remained steadfast, confident that though the fires may destroy their bodies, they would achieve everlasting life with Christ. They are now regarded as national saints in Uganda.
The church in Laodicea, as portrayed in Revelation, is the opposite of steadfast fortitude and conviction. The angel accused them of indifference, being neither hot nor cold. They were proud and complacent: ‘I am rich and prosperous and need nothing.’ They were certainly anything but the heroes of faith represented by the three young men in Babylon, or the Uganda martyrs. Yet, remarkably, God does not cease to love even this rather unlovely, conceited, complacent congregation. ‘Behold I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in and share a meal with you.’ Christ does not force his way into the house. He is not an invader. He is not the ruthless dictator who forces people to conform. He is not the bigoted ideologue who puts doctrinal conformity before human compassion.
‘Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.’
‘Oh ye servants of the Lord, bless ye the Lord: praise him and magnify him for ever’ (The Benedicite, Song of the Three Children, the Matins Canticle in the Book of Common Prayer).