HOMILY for Wed in Week 5 of Lent
The First Reading on these first days of Passiontide have tended to by typological, that is, they are Old Testament incidents that point to the life of Christ, and specifically, the events of the Easter Triduum. So on Monday (although we didn’t have it this year because it was the Annunciation), we had the trial of Susanna. She was a righteous and innocent woman who was falsely accused and tried by the authorities. So, she prefigures the trial and condemnation of Christ. Yesterday, we heard of the bronze serpent raised up in the desert by Moses, and any who looked at it was healed and saved from death. This prefigures the Cross, on which Christ is lifted up for our salvation. And today, the sequence of typological readings concludes with the trial and rescue of the three young men in the furnace.
For this incident prefigures the Resurrection, and more specifically, its saving effect on us. So, the three young men stand for those who have faith in God, and because of their faith, they are saved from the fires of death by Christ, who appears in the story as a fourth man who looked like “a son of the gods”. In the third and fourth centuries, this scene was often depicted in the Roman catacombs or carved on the marble coffins of Christians, as a sign of their faith in Christ and their hope in the Resurrection. A number of the Fathers of the Church also thought that the three young men, having resisted the unjust command of the king, and been consigned to death for their resolute witness to their faith, were symbols of the martyrs. And in their sufferings, Christ, the king of Martyrs, is with them to comfort them, and, ultimately, to rescue them.
Hence, Christ says: “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” To continue, or remain in Christ’s Word is to live by his teachings, and to hold fast to them even in times of trial and hostility from external powers, on the one hand, or indeed, the fires of our passions and temptations, on the other hand. If we are steadfast then we shall be true disciples, who witness to Christ’s Word. And, of course, the Greek word for witnesses is martures, martyrs. For it is through martyrdom, that is, witnessing to Christ’s teachings especially when it is difficult that we will learn the truth of his Word, and what it means to follow him, whose Way is the way of the Cross. We will “know the truth” through such hardship, which at times can feel like a fiery furnace, because only Truth is worth suffering for.
This is the witness of those true disciples, the martyrs of the Church, who suffered and died for the Truth of Christ’s Gospel. And “the truth will make [them] free”, because they will be vindicated for their faithfulness by Jesus Christ who is the Truth. They, and indeed, we will be vindicated because Christ rescues his faithful ones from death and raises them to new and everlasting life to enjoy the freedom of being God’s children.