November 23, 2011 - Wednesday of the Thirty-Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

Our first reading today is the source of a couple of sayings in English. The first is “seeing the hand writing on the wall”. When someone says that they have seen the hand writing on the wall, they mean that they are aware of what is coming next, usually something that cannot be avoided. In the reading today, the writing hand is a visible expression of the will of God. God gives the king this sign so that there can be no doubt that the end of the empire of Babylon was not a mere accident of history; it was part of God’s plan for the world.

Another saying taken from the reading today is an insult: “You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” This insult is profound: it implies a judge of the world able to weigh emperors on a scale; it implies a minimum standard which everyone ought to meet. This statement is an expression of pure justice: no one can debate with a scale; no one can give excuses or explanations; no one can bribe a scale; the scale measures dispassionately. Thus we have the image of blind Justice holding the scales.

The king is terrified. In fairness, he did see a disembodied hand writing on the wall, but how did he know that the hand was writing something against him? The hand could have been writing something good. Such a hand would surprise anyone but it will only cause fear in the mind of a guilty person. The king knew that he deserved punishment, so he presumed that his punishment had come. When we have a clear conscience very little can frighten us, but a person with a guilty conscience is afraid of their own shadow.

Was this king guiltier than other men? I do not think so. No guiltier than I am, perhaps less so. We all have a guilty conscience because we all have sinned. We are afraid of ghosts and darkness because we know that we deserve punishment for our sins, and we fear that our punishment is just around the corner. We need someone to save us from our guilt, from our fear, and we have such a Savior. How many times did Jesus say, “Be not afraid”? In Jesus Christ, our sins will be forgiven so that we do not have to be afraid anymore.