Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
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.
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