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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Following God on challenging frontlines | Daniel

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility – young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service.

Among those who were chosen were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.

But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.

DANIEL 1:3–8


 

One of the most challenging frontlines to be part of is somewhere with a strong ethos of ‘us’. Togetherness can be a good thing to experience, but not necessarily. As young Jewish men living in Babylon, gifted and useful to their king, Daniel and his three friends find themselves facing this very a challenge.

They are invited to become part of the ‘young and gifted programme’. To be included in that programme was to become one of the king’s insiders, and consequently to share the court lifestyle – including the way the court ate and drank. This was a sign of favour.

However, for Daniel and his friends, the problem was that it would force them to break Israelite commands on diet. So, Daniel decided he was unwilling to eat like the king’s group. He decided to go a different way. This was a risky situation to be in, because it meant Daniel was resisting becoming ‘one of us’. To be ‘one of us’ is to be part of the in-group. But more than that, it usually means those who have privilege, whatever that looks like.

Too often, ‘one of us’ is a way of including people by emotional or moral blackmail. It means compromising what we know to be right, allowing exclusion, and keeping silent about bad behaviour. It’s about conforming to the group.

I once accompanied someone experiencing harassment to talk to the person in authority. Said person was simply failing to take her situation seriously and intervene, and needed to hear how scared she was.

Realising he might be challenged, he tried to ‘one of us’ me. He greeted me effusively (barely acknowledging her), named all the people we had in common, and ‘couldn’t believe we’d never met up before.’ He was inviting me to separate from the woman who needed help and become ‘one of us’.

To refuse this invitation carries a cost. It may impact our careers or our personal connections among friends. But our call as Christians is not to conform to the likeness of others or remain in the comfort of the in-group. To follow Jesus on our frontlines is to look for the people who have been ‘othered’ – those who are excluded, disadvantaged, or mistreated – and to be an ally for them. To be like Jesus, not like others. Knowing we serve the Lord Jesus who was despised and rejected, we are challenged about where we belong.

Are you one of us?

Revd Dr Jenni Williams
Vicar of St Matthew with St Luke, Oxford, and former Tutor in Old Testament at Wycliffe Hall

Comments

  1. The question ‘are you one of us’ I am one of the soldiers in The Lord’s Army. With prayer and commitment aim to maintain the full armour of God.

    By Leila Simms  -  8 May 2023
  2. It’s strange, isn’t it, that while we live in a society that apparently hugely values individualism, there is still such huge pressure to conform at times!

    By Lin Ball  -  8 May 2023
  3. The principle I’ve always tried to follow is to draw the line at the point at which I thought I’d be defiled. That ‘point’ will be different for each Christian. The vegetables Daniel opted for were still Babylonian Palace fare and the wine he refused was not excluded by the Torah. Probably both still ‘sanctified’ by prayer or offering to Marduk. So, the diet per se, was not the key to the decision he and his fellow under graduates made. I haven’t always been successful in drawing a line nor in keeping my own boundaries at work but in doing so, when I have, the cost to career has been palpable. That said, the opportunity for conversation about Jesus has been prompted countless times as a result of observing red lines. Some former colleagues, praise God, are now ‘one of us’.

    By Brian Smith  -  8 May 2023
  4. Thank you for this comment – it is so , so true. We, as society in general and individuals in particular, experience this temptation to be in the ‘in group’ as you say, with all the emotional sense of belonging as well as the perks of, for example – invitations to events, outings, being privy to information, feeling superior or more valued and access to more perceived and actual power. The pat on the back, the being hailed across the street because we are known and ‘approved of’ can leave us with the warm glow of feeling loved and accepted. It can lead to the temptation of behaving less than honourably towards our fellow person
    It is so much harder to stand up against the tide of the crowd on social media who have become the self appointed guardians of pretty much everything: from the acceptable body or beauty standard, which pop group is the most talented to which party is guilty in a celebrity court trial. The consequences of raising your head about the parapet as it were, and speaking out for truth, justice and a moral path, can be devastating in the retaliatory attack.
    I well remember how easy it was – and pretty great at times- to be popular when in a position of relative power, and how , when I was ‘only’ a full time mum, the interest in me faded significantly. I missed the attention and the sense of importance. I remember how my son felt the pull of the ‘in crowd’ at school but, wonderfully, ended up befriending those who were teased and ignored – those with different abilities and talents, who were seen as weird and not worth getting to know by the cool kids. The cost to him was that he lost any chance of getting into the group he aspired to be known by.
    Being a charity worker, I am daily on the side of the disenfranchised, the marginalised, the sad and lonely, the survivor and the victim. It gives a different lens by which to view the world and engage with it. It builds resilience and a strong desire to fight for those who cant fight for themselves. It opens our eyes to the true state of the society we have created.
    We have a perfect example in Jesus who knew how it was to walk with those who were deemed nothing in society and how these stories prove He loves us and points us to the true value of our lives and souls- and it certainly isn’t because we are rich or handsome or have a powerful job.

    By Liz Jermy  -  8 May 2023
  5. An incisive & powerful reflection

    By Bruce Gulland  -  9 May 2023

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