We are told throughout our first reading today how it was the fault of “some men” that Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den. It emphasized over and over how the king himself did not want to put Daniel in there. He “worked until sunset to rescue him” and “sleep was impossible” that night. After Daniel himself, we are supposed to feel bad, I suppose, for the king, but who issued the royal decree? Who insisted that no one should pray to anyone except the king for one month?
Those men who are accusing Daniel tell us who it was, “Daniel, the Jewish exile, has paid no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you issued.” The king issued the royal decree. So if he spent a sleepless night without dinner or entertainment, I think he deserved it. He never does, but he could have even taken responsibility for his own actions.
What could he have done though? As the men remind him, “under the Mede and Persian law” royal decrees are irrevocable. Perhaps, but under the law of God, throwing a human into a lions’ den because they were praying is wrong. When human law conflicts with divine law, it is obvious what ought to prevail. The king should not have thrown Daniel in the lions’ den, no matter what. He was not forced to.
The king dug a hole for himself with his stupid decree. Then he felt that he had no choice but to follow through. He was wrong. We always have a choice to do what is right. Like a businessman who is forced to lie under oath or a single mother who is forced to kill her own child, it is possible to arrive at a point where the choice is between self-sacrifice and doing wrong. The businessman is not forced; he could always go to jail instead. The mother is not forced; she could always struggle to care for the child instead.
It is never impossible to do what is right. In every circumstance, no matter what choices we have made up to that point, we can always begin doing what is right. It may be difficult. We may lose everything except our souls. Who knows what would have happened if the king had refused to thrown Daniel in the loins’ den. He might have lost his kingdom. It would have been worth it though, to do what is right.