It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, stationed throughout the whole kingdom, and over them three presidents, including Daniel; to these the satraps gave account, so that the king might suffer no loss. Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him, and the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom. So the presidents and the satraps tried to find grounds for complaint against Daniel in connection with the kingdom. But they could find no grounds for complaint or any corruption, because he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption could be found in him. The men said, ‘We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.’
So the presidents and satraps conspired and came to the king and said to him, ‘O King Darius, live for ever! All the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counsellors and the governors, are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever prays to anyone, divine or human, for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into a den of lions. Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.’ Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.
Bureaucrats have a terrible reputation, whether civil servants, in the EU in Brussels or wherever. And here I have to confess that, for a short time in my pre-ministerial career, I was one in the NHS. I had a temporary job to monitor the spending of education-related money for professions allied to medicine. Interestingly, in my NHS career, it was the only job in which there was more money in the budget than was historically being spent. Thus, having analysed the spending and implemented robust procedures to ensure that it was spent wisely, I discovered I was, unexpectedly, a remarkably popular bureaucrat, congratulated by both an Audit Commission representative and the recipients of grants alike!
Not so for poor Daniel who, despite his impressive efficiency, provoked jealousy and ill-feeling amongst his contemporary bureaucrats (satraps and presidents.) I see this as yet another example of early racism/antisemitism, also evident in the book of Esther, where a person of a group recognised as different or ‘other’ from ‘us’ is picked on, sidelined and discriminated by members of the majority.
What Daniel’s colleagues did was the same evil evident in the attack on Catholics in Sri Lanka, Muslims in New Zealand, or, indeed, in random attacks such as the Manchester bombing or the Westminster Bridge atrocities. The words of Jacinda Ahern, the New Zealand prime minister, ring true when she responded to the attacks on Muslims in Christchurch referring to those on the end of the attack, saying, ”They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.”
Daniel’s enemies ultimately paid a huge price for their prejudice and I only wish they had heard the words of St. Paul in Galatians 3:28 before setting up their evil plan!
Gracious and all-inclusive God, as humans sometimes we seem incapable of recognising difference as anything other than threatening and discomfiting. May we learn to accept the ‘other’ as ‘us’ and learn to properly love our neighbour (whoever they are, however strange they might be) as ourselves. Amen
The Rev’d Peter Clark is the URC Minister of the Bridport & Dorchester Joint Pastorate
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