The reading for Sunday, June 5, 2016:
Daniel 6: 1-28
Today we get to the famous story about Daniel in the Lion's Den. Through the decades, I've seen this story in the same way that I saw it as a child, as a story of Daniel's faithfulness. This morning, I saw it through another lens, that of power.
Daniel is the perfect employee, and he has so distinguished himself that the king will set him up over all the other administrators. The other administrators might be expected to breathe a sigh of relief at the thought of such a capable person being in charge. But no, they look for ways to get him in trouble.
I have seen similar dynamics, and chances are good that you have too. I assume that this all-too-human trait is rooted in the wishing to be chosen above all others, and in the jealousy that often comes when someone else is chosen. We see it in the relationships that children have, and sadly, many humans never grow up.
The king, whom we might expect to be all-powerful, shows that he, too, is trapped by power structures. He's tricked by his fawning administrators, and once trapped, he cannot break out of the structure that he's set up.
Daniel, too, is trapped, and we often forget that, as we see how the story unfolds. His exemplary behavior traps him into a trajectory that will bring him on a collision course with his fellow administrators; we can imagine that if he was just a bit sloppier in some areas, the other administrators would not look for ways to get him in trouble. Daniel is trapped in other ways too.He's an exile in a land of strangers, and he's trying to stay true to himself while in a foreign land. And then, because of that, he's trapped in the lion's den.
The story of Daniel is often presented as one that reminds us of the importance of our religious practices. But I also see it as a story about the problems of law and strict adherence to the law. Because of the interpretation of the law, the king had no choice but to condemn Daniel. The main focus of the story is that God rewards faithfulness, but an important undergirding of the story is the message that the law, with all its strictures, will not lead us to freedom.
Many of us may feel like Daniel, strangers in a strange land, an alien empire, full of practices that we don't fully understand. Many of us find ourselves in workplaces and other cultures where we don't find many other Christians, if we find any at all. We may find ourselves struggling to stay true to our Christian values in a world that doesn't reward us for that and may in fact actively punish us.
The stories in the book of Daniel are designed to comfort those of us who labor under an alien empire. These stories remind us that although the larger culture may not reward us, God watches and God is the one who is ultimately in charge.
We may not escape from all of our lions' dens, but we can be sure that God will reward our faithfulness.