2I, Daniel, saw in my vision by night the four winds of heaven stirring up the great sea, 3and four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another.
The assigned reading doesn’t include the description of these four beasts: a lion with eagles’ wings (wings that are plucked off and the beast made to stand on two feet as if it were human); a bear with three tusks, hunched up on one side, told to “Arise, devour many bodies!”; a leopard with four wings and four heads; and then a fourth beast beyond description, crunching bones in its iron teeth. Four beasts arising from the sea, from the remnants of the primordial chaos, beastly kingdoms that crush and slaughter and defile.
In the verses skipped by the assigned reading, Daniel witnesses the beastly kingdoms judged by “an Ancient One” on a fiery throne, and the arrival of a fifth kingdom, one like a son of man. A “humane” governance of the world. An eternal governance. A world no longer torn by violence and oppression. A world brought under the governance of God. A world where the blind see, the deaf hear, and the lame walk. A world where outcasts are gathered in, debts forgiven, lives set free. A world where God bears the scars of redemption. There is reason Jesus calls himself ‘son of man’.
The way our assigned reading has cut the text keeps the promise that “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever,” but the shortened reading obscures the message. It lends itself to the idea that the kingdom is a static reality, heaven above, rather than God’s dynamic response to our broken world. The message is not that the faithful will get the kingdom, a consolation prize for the sorrows of earth; the text proclaims the world belongs to God and God will redeem it. Beasts rule it now, but God will take it back. And if this is true, if God will reclaim the world, then whose kingdom shall we serve, the beasts’ or God’s?
The promise in the text is sweet, but it loses power without the beasts, without the acknowledgment of our world’s brokenness. An end to gun violence means much more to those who have lived through Newtown; an end to war, to those who bear its scars. Human governance of the world has put many, many bodies in the ground; God’s governance opens the grave.