1 September 2020

Nailing the crocodile

Picture of Brendan Byrne

Brendan Byrne

Brendan is a Majellan staff member and a Melbourne based writer

In March, I made the decision to move cities and jobs during a once in a lifetime pandemic. I moved from Sydney to Melbourne to join the Majellan, run by the Redemptorist Fathers since the late 1940s. While it has not been an easy few months because of coronavirus restrictions and lockdowns, I couldn’t be happier with my choice.

One of the many pleasures of working at the Majellan is the letters received from our readers. While they are invariably written with an intimidating level of penmanship, the words themselves are sweet and warming. It’s a fine gift to read from those in their eighties and nineties about their lives, the families they have raised, and for some, their lifelong journey with the Majellan. 

There have been so many changes in the lifetimes of our oldest subscribers, that in many ways, the world probably seems unrecognisable.

My own grandparents were school aged children in the 1950s, and material poverty was all too familiar to their childhood. When my Grandmother’s family couldn’t afford toilet paper, the yellow pages would suffice. The trick was to start at ‘z’.  However, while we have made vast advancements in material wealth, emerging generations are experiencing a spiritual poverty which can’t be treated as easily as a neatly folded sheet from the White Pages.

Many young Australians today do not identify as religious, and as belief diminishes, so does a sense of community. Instead, An isolating individualism grows until something else fills the void to bind people together in a common cause. The alienation of faithlessness has surely contributed to a loneliness epidemic among young people with some studies reporting that 80 per cent of adolescents report feeling lonely and often.

While the future of the Church in this country seems bleak, the mission to evangelise, and save souls remains as powerful and relevant as ever and there are rich biblical examples to demonstrate this.

In the idolatrous Persian Empire, the faithful prophets Daniel and Esther, due to their bravery, were able to preserve the lives of their people as well as the integrity of the Jewish religion. In the book of numbers, Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylonia, owned a crocodile, which swallowed everything it was fed. He boasted to Daniel that: “So great is its might that it consumes everything that is thrown to it.” … Daniel took straw, hid nails within it, and fed it to the crocodile, rupturing its intestines.

There is a similar story in the Rabbinic tradition of King Shevur and the giant snakes that devoured his wagons. Ten great heroes filled ten skins of straw and the snake’s belly burst. 

The crocodile and the snake function in the same way that power works on earth, possessing an appetite to consume and control all things. The pattern repeats itself throughout the bible because God is showing us the critical importance of this motif – Sin and evil win only when you are absorbed. The pattern reaches its stunning fulfillment in Christ, who allows himself to be put to death by the power of the Roman Empire. Sin is a predictable beast, and in consuming Christ it ate the nail that destroys sin from within.

The book of Esther is somewhat like the end of the world. There are no more prophets, Jerusalem is destroyed, God has stopped speaking to his people, and the Jews are scattered across the Persian Empire. Esther is a young and seemingly insignificant woman, who is swept into the King’s Harem. Due to her intelligence and charm, she becomes queen and wins great favour in the court.

However, the King’s advisor Haman releases a decree to annihilate the Jewish people, and Esther must risk sacrificing her life and all her worldly favour to convince the king to save the Jewish race, knowing her chances are almost zero. 

Esther teaches us that wherever we are and however small we may feel, we have a role to play. There are no miracles for Esther to rely on for salvation because Esther was the miracle – given to us by God. The lesson for Christians living in a hostile world is to use all their resources to discover what their role is to be, as well as being prepared to sacrifice personal placing if it ever comes up against what they know is right. 

I’m inspired by the lives that have been built by the faithful people whose letters we have all read and cherished, as much as I am by the prophets. Although the Church community could look a lot different in my lifetime than in previous generations, our calling is unchanged, and the potential to heal the world is as potent.

While Daniel and Esther are preserved in history for their actions, in the words of George Eliot: “The growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs”.








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