The Punishment Always Comes from Within

Daniel 5:1-6, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28 / Lk 21:12-19

Today’s reading from the Old Testament prophet Daniel draws us into the center of a terrifying event. In the course of an extravagant royal celebration hosted by the King of Babylon, a disembodied human hand writes a mysterious message on the wall. Daniel is called to interpret it, and once again he tells the whole truth to the king: You have ignored God ‘in whose hand is your life breath and the whole course of your life,’ and therefore your days and the days of your kingdom are numbered.

It would be too facile to chalk this up as a proper punishment rightly imposed by a righteous God upon a corrupt and unworthy servant. To do that would be to miss the fact that the punishment, as always, came from inside the king. That’s where his sin was, ignoring God, giving no thanks, never seeing himself in the perspective of eternity, never seeing his own deep need for something more than himself and his armies and his possessions, and never seeing his need for God’s wisdom if he were ever to make a life and be a true leader.

Laid end to end like that, the king’s life sounds rather like a death wish. Indeed it was, and the king murdered his own future. His sin was inside and so were its consequences: a shrunken soul, a foolish heart, an empty spirit which knew nothing of God.

That’s an ending we surely don’t want for ourselves. So remember where your life is coming from, moment to moment, and with God’s help build a heart and a life that have a future and no ending.