There is some really weird stuff in the Old Testament, and sometimes it shows up in the readings at Mass, more often in the weekday readings because there are obviously more of those than Sundays. It is easy for priests, who preach every day, to skirt past these readings and focus on the Gospel, because even we wonder what the heck to say for some of these passages.
|Father Richard Kunst
Even though we are well past it now, the last couple weeks of ordinary time tend to give us some doozies to hear at Mass, like the book of Daniel, which was written fairly late for the Old Testament. Daniel was written during a time of great persecution of the Jewish people living in Palestine around 160 years before Jesus was born. It was written with the purpose of comforting the Jews who were going through this ordeal. But the narrative of the story from the book dates back to an earlier persecution of the Jews during a time period we call the Babylonian Captivity, which happened in the sixth century before Christ.
The book is named after a young, wise Jewish man who was taken to Babylon and happened to have interaction with the Babylonian leadership, often interpreting dreams and visions that the kings of Babylon were having. One such dream, taken from the second chapter of Daniel, was that of King Nebuchadnezzar, who dreamt of a massive statue made out of all sorts of material.
As the dream unfolds, he see that the head of the statue was made of gold, the chest and arms were of silver, its belly and thighs made of bronze, its legs iron, and the feet made of iron and tile. I told you it was weird. The king, desperately wanting to know what the dream means, calls on the wise Daniel to interpret.
I will not bore you with the entire meaning, but suffice it to say each material the statue was made of represented a new kingdom. The head of gold was King Nebuchadnezzar himself, and each king that followed him was inferior until the divided kingdom of “tile and iron” was destroyed.
It is what comes next in the dream that pertains to us today. After the divided kingdom is destroyed, the sacred text says, “In the lifetime of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed or delivered up to another people; rather, it shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and put an end to them, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44).
We are living the dream, baby! King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, whether he knew it or not (or whether Daniel knew it or not), was about the church, the Mystical Body of Christ. The Catholic Church was born at the height of the Roman Empire’s power, and it has been living ever since.
Do you know how many empires, kings, queens, and armies have tried to destroy the church over the past 2,000-plus years? A lot of them. They are all gone, but the church is still here and will be here until the end of human history. And when the history of man finally comes to an end, the church will still continue, because the church on earth is only one part of the church.
One of the traditional titles given to the church on earth is the “Church Militant.” That is because we continue to battle our way through this world in order to get to heaven. But the church is not only here on earth; the traditional name for church in heaven is the “Church Triumphant,” because that part of the church has won the battle and reached its heavenly goal. The church in heaven is just as much the church as is the church on earth, so all of our deceased loved ones who are with God are members of the church too. It is the one organization that we do not forfeit membership of upon our death! That is pretty cool if you really give that some thought. Dying interrupts all sorts of things, but it does not interrupt our membership in the Catholic Church.
So in these often weird passages of the Old Testament, we still see how they pertain to us, and when Nebuchadnezzar’s dream ended with the prophesy of a new kingdom to be established that will live forever, know that we are all living the dream!
Father Richard Kunst is pastor of St. James and St. Elizabeth in Duluth. Reach him at [email protected]