King Belshazzar made a great festival for a thousand of his lords, and he was drinking wine in the presence of the thousand. Under the influence of the wine, Belshazzar commanded that they bring in the vessels of gold and silver that his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them. So they brought in the vessels of gold and silver that had been taken out of the temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. They drank the wine and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and began writing on the plaster of the wall of the royal palace, next to the lampstand. The king was watching the hand as it wrote. Then the king's face turned pale, and his thoughts terrified him. His limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king said to Daniel, "So you are Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah? I have heard of you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that enlightenment, understanding, and excellent wisdom are found in you. But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you are able to read the writing and tell me its interpretation, you shall be clothed in purple, have a chain of gold around your neck, and rank third in the kingdom."
Then Daniel answered in the presence of the king, "Let your gifts be for yourself, or give your rewards to someone else! Nevertheless I will read the writing to the king and let him know the interpretation. You have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven! The vessels of his temple have been brought in before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines have been drinking wine from them. You have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know; but the God in whose power is your very breath, and to whom belong all your ways, you have not honoured. "So from his presence the hand was sent and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENÉ, MENÉ, TEKEL, and PARSIN. This is the interpretation of the matter: MENÉ, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting; PARSIN, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians."
Jesus said to his disciples,"Before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls."
The final sentence of the gospel, perhaps later added to Jesus' words as commentary and application, directs our meditation today. "By patience you will save your lives." It is another one of those floating comments that can fit into many situations. It occurred earlier in Luke 8:15 in a somewhat adapted form, where the seed bore fruit "through patience." It recurs in Paul's call to "patiently do what is right" (Rom 2:7). In another passage of Romans, this same word, patience, becomes a major link, "affliction produces patience, and patience produces character, and character produces hope, a hope that will not leave us disappointed, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:3-5).
Mené, Tekel, PARSIN: The Greek word for patience or endurance (hypomoné) reflects a strong inner attitude of perseverance, consistency, dependability. With this in mind, we can re-read today's scriptures and first of all, the gospel. Persecution cannot break such a steady person, nor can family relationships that seem to be strained beyond all limits. "You will be delivered up even by your parents, brothers, sisters, relatives and friends." In times such as this, we must continue in our loyalty to God. We need the conviction that sooner or later God will justify us, and at that moment because of continued fidelity our family and community will reunite. In the meanwhile Jesus promises "I will give you a wisdom which none of your opponents can take exception to or contradict." Our words will be prompted by true love and honest fidelity. Such words will have power to persuade and will gradually bear their good fruit.
Truly, "by patience you will save your lives" and the lives of all your loved ones. This line, which can fit into many different moments of our lives and enable us to carry onward towards the promised land, has a nice ring in the Latin translation of Saint Jerome: in patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras--"In your patience you will possess your souls."
The gospel today reflects the reality of life for many Christians in the first century of the Church. Bearing witness to Jesus and to his values in that culture meant being put on trial by religious and political authorities, leading to imprisonment and, sometimes, to death. It often meant the experience of betrayal by family members and closest friends. It is bearing witness to one's faith publicly which brought all this negativity upon oneself. It was possible to keep one's faith private in those times, and to live a reasonably undisturbed life. But authentic faith is always public. Our relationship with the Lord may be very personal to each of us, but it can never be relegated to a purely private sphere. Our relationship with the Lord is to be the most important relationship in our lives. If that is so, it will impact publicly on all our other relationships, on everything we say and do. We don't just keep the faith in some kind of private space; we live the faith in a public way. That will never be easy, in any culture. But the Lord assures us in today's gospel that he will give us the resources we need to enable us to witness to our faith when it is difficult to do so. His enduring presence to us will make it possible for us to endure.