In the first reading, we have the story of the opulent feast thrown by King Belshazzar of Babylon. Not only did he host 1000 noblemen, but he used the gold and silver vessels that had been stolen from the sanctuary of the Temple (the very heart of Judaism), to drink the wine. The use of these vessels for such purposes was utterly sacrilegious. This must have been quite some party, where the wine flowed like water for, as they continued to drink, things got out of hand and they began to praise their idols. It went from the sublime to the ridiculous, from praising gold and silver to wood and stone! Who in their right mind would praise wood and stone? Suddenly a hand appeared and started writing on the wall – but nobody could understand what was written. King Belshazzar was so scared ‘that his hip joints went slack and his knees began to knock.’ This story is almost farcical, like a Monty Python skit.
It was only Daniel who was able to read and interpret the writing on the wall: mene, mene, teqel, parsin. Belshazzar’s sovereignty was to come to an end, he was found wanting and his kingdom was to be given to the Medes and the Persians. For not giving God the glory that God was due things for Belshazzar were about to take a turn for the worst as he was murdered that same night.
But how can we understand this reading in 2023? Are we living a hedonistic life, filled with useless things that make us drunk? Answer: we are, at times. Is the writing on the wall saying: enough, stop wasting your time on empty things that are of no value, everything will be taken from you? Yes. Pope Francis, in Laudate Deum, is making an urgent plea for us to clean up our act as some climate changes ‘are already irreversible, at least for several hundred years such as the increase in the global temperature of the oceans, their acidification and the decrease of oxygen’ (#15). He is like Daniel calling all leaders and individuals to change.
The stakes are very high. But let us be like Jesus who walked on this earth and said, “Lift up your eyes, and see how the fields are already ripe for harvest” (Jn 4:35) to perceive the divine message.
Victoria Raw is parishioner of Te Whetu O Te Moana, Star of the Sea Marlborough, NZ and is active in lay ministry.