Nebuchadnezzar said to them, "Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?"
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up."
Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire.
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counsellors, "Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?" They answered the king, "True, O king."
He replied, "But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god."
Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, "You will be made free"?"
Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are descendants of Abraham; yet you look for an opportunity to kill me, because there is no place in you for my word. I declare what I have seen in the Father's presence; as for you, you should do what you have heard from the Father."
They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you are trying to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did. You are indeed doing what your father does." They said to him, "We are not illegitimate children; we have one father, God himself." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now I am here. I did not come on my own, but he sent me."
In this drama from the book of Daniel the young men put their trust in God no matter what happens: "If our God can save us, may he save us! But even if he will not, O king, we will not serve your God!" With almost unimaginable serenity they accept the consequences of remaining faithful to their Jewish traditions. "There is no need," they said, "for us to defend ourselves." The issue is very clear to them; they choose integrity at all costs. Then God saved them from being consumed in the furnace and led Nebuchadnezzar to exclaim: "Blessed be the God who delivers the servants that trust in him." Jesus, too, acted with integrity, doing "the will of him who sent me" (John 5:30). Yet, unlike the young men in the fiery furnace, he was not saved from the violent death of crucifixion. However, even in such a death the Father in heaven was answering his prayers. As contradictory as it seems, Jesus "was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when perfected he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him." (Hebr 5:7-9)
It also was by such unconditional, loyal obedience that Jesus proved his relationship as a son to the Father. "I did not come of my own will; it was he who sent me." His total response, according to St. John, His devotion to the Father's loving will, was at the core of Jesus' life, his conscious being. Jesus' very existence centered on this sense of total loyalty as the Father's Son. Our identity as Christian disciples flows from this spirit of integrity. As in today's gospel: "If you live according to my teaching, you are truly my disciples; then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." At crucial moments in our lives we may be expected to be heroic, self-sacrificing like the young men in the book of Daniel, or indeed like Jesus himself. If we can respond with all our heart, our true self will emerge most fully, for Our Lord has given us power to become children of God. And when our final prayer is heard through the act of dying, we will be saved by him for eternal life.
There have been many slogans relating to freedom down through the centuries. Perhaps the most notorious was the Nazi slogan "Work makes free" that hung over the gates of the concentration camps. In today's gospel, Jesus declares, "the truth will make you free." A little later in John's gospel Jesus will say of himself, "I am the truth." Jesus, in other words, is declaring himself to be the source of true freedom. As he declares in today's gospel, "If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." It is only through Jesus that we can enter into what St Paul calls "the glorious freedom of the children of God." It is Jesus, and the Holy Spirit that he pours into our hearts, that frees us from sin and all that diminishes us, and empowers us to live as God intends us to live, in ways that correspond to what is best and deepest in us. True freedom is the freedom to love, the freedom to give of ourselves to others as Jesus gave of himself to us. It is for this freedom we pray during these final weeks of Lent.