We are all familiar with the old expression: “to see the handwriting on the wall.” But do we realize just how old it is, and where it comes from?
Well, in chapter 5 of the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament of Sacred Scripture, the pagan king Belshazzar of Babylon is giving a great feast and calls for the sacred vessels which his father, Nebuchadnezzar had pillaged from the Temple in Jerusalem. While he and his guests are sacrilegiously eating and drinking from those vessels, a hand appears writing on the wall near a lampstand where it can be clearly seen. We are told that when the king saw that, “his face blanched, his thoughts terrified him, his hip joints shook, and his knees knocked”! As Elvis Presley might have said, “He was all shook up!” We would be too, to see something like that. And especially to hear the prophet Daniel’s interpretation of the words which the hand wrote on the wall. They were Mene, Tekel, and Peres. Meaning Numbered, Weighed, and Divided. Daniel told the king what they meant: God had numbered his kingdom and determined to end it; God had weighed the king on scales and found him wanting; God had divided the kingdom and it would be given to the Medes and the Persians, enemies of Babylon. A very grim interpretation indeed!
That reminds me of the fact that the German word for the check or the bill which is brought to the table by the waiter at the end of a meal in a German-speaking restaurant is “die Rechnung.” We get the English work “reckoning” from that, and it’s an ominous word, whether we’re talking in terms of a meal in Munich or Vienna, or whether we are talking about the judgment at the end of our lives. Please God, we will be found in the state of grace when our lives end, so that the Lord of the Judgment will weigh us and find us heavy with grace and merit and not with the guilt of sin.
In some of the monasteries of the Middle Ages, the monks used to greet each other when passing in the cloisters or the work areas of the abbeys by saying “memento mori.” Remember: you are going to die. We need not be morbid or pessimistic about it, but it is certainly well to remember that. What would you do today if you knew that tonight at 7 p.m. you were going to die and face the reckoning?
When the apostles returned from their first preaching mission, they were like excited children, and they reported to Our Lord with delight: “Even the demons were subject to us!” Jesus soberly said to them, “Don’t rejoice over that in particular. Rejoice, rather, because your names are written in heaven.” As long as our names are written in heaven, we need not fear a hand writing of our sins and their punishment upon the walls of our lives. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This Message was composed some years ago.