Monday in the Fifth Week of Lent
Daniel 13:1ff. When the life of the chaste Susanna was in danger because of false accusations, Daniel’s acute questions reveal the truth and lead to justice being done.
John 8:1ff. Jesus calls for mercy towards the woman caught in adultery: Let whoever is without sin throw the first stone.
Defending the Weak
The key to genuine religion is given in one line about Susanna: Through her tears she looked up to heaven, for she trusted in the Lord with her whole heart. By contrast we learn that her two accusers suppressed their consciences and would not raise their eyes to heaven. When we fix our gaze on heaven, and let ourselves to be absorbed in God, we acquire an extraordinary peace. This peace is Christ’s farewell gift, not the temporary peace sometimes given by the world, but infused far more deeply into our lives.
This inner peace begets its own kind of patience. Jesus’ words come to mind, as they used to ring out in the ancient Latin liturgy, in patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras, literally “in your patience you will possess your soul” (Luke 21:10). In that spirit Susanna turned to the Lord and prayed: O Eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things. She did not lash out angrily against her accusers, nor did she turn at once in panic to her own defense. She looked to the Lord, and in this patience she possessed her strength and integrity. Rather than fall into the trap of arguing when her accusers were crafty, she forced everyone to come up to her innocence and honesty before God.
We are directed first to remember God’s presence and his sweeping knowledge of everything and then to abide in prayer. In this way our own defense does not turn into a shouting match where nobody wins and we ourselves lose our own innocence in this excessive form of revenge and counterattack.
The guilty woman in today’s story sat silently at Jesus’ feet. Again we admire both his and the woman’s restraint. He simply bent down and started doodling on the ground with his finger. When he looked up he proposed, ‘Let whoever among you is without sin be the first to stone her;’ and again time he bent down and wrote on the ground. She might have shouted accusations against the man caught in the act with her and yet who was allowed off scot free. It seems her accusers did not want even-handed justice or both culprits would have been accused. They were just using the woman to trap Jesus.
Jesus refused to be trapped, and so did the woman whose silence on the ground projected more honour and dignity than her accusers’ self-justifying pomposity. They eventually drifted away one by one, beginning with the elders.
We pray for the wisdom to know when to choose the silence which breeds honour, serenity, forgiveness. These depths of character will come when we possess our souls in the presence of Jesus. He becomes our light, our witness, our justification. Like a new Daniel, he enables an ever wider circle of our neighbours to pray, “blessed is God who saves those who hope in him.”
Though I walk in the dark valley
I need fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff you give me courage.
First Reading: Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 31-62
There was a man living in Babylon whose name was Joakim. And he took a wife named Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah, a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord. Her parents were righteous, and had taught their daughter according to the law of Moses. Joakim was very rich, and had a spacious garden adjoining his house; and the Jews used to come to him because he was the most honoured of them all.
That year two elders from the people were appointed as judges. Concerning them the Lord had said: “Iniquity came forth from Babylon, from elders who were judges, who were supposed to govern the people.” These men were frequently at Joakim’s house, and all who had suits at law came to them there.
When the people departed at noon, Susanna would go into her husband’s garden to walk. The two elders used to see her every day, going in and walking about, and they began to desire her. And they perverted their minds and turned away their eyes from looking to Heaven or remembering righteous judgmnts.
Once, while they were watching for an opportune day, she went in as before with only two maids, and wished to bathe in the garden, for it was very hot. And no one was there except the two elders, who had hid themselves and were watching her. She said to her maids, “Bring me oil and ointments, and shut the garden doors so that I may bathe.”
Now Susanna was a woman of great refinement, and beautiful in appearance. As she was veiled, the wicked men ordered her to be unveiled, that they might feed upon her beauty. But her family and friends and all who saw her wept.
Then the two elders stood up in the midst of the people, and laid their hands upon her head. And she, weeping, looked up toward heaven, for her heart trusted in the Lord. The elders said, “As we were walking in the garden alone, this woman came in with two maids, shut the garden doors, and dismissed the maids. Then a young man, who had been hidden, came to her and lay with her. We were in a corner of the garden, and when we saw this wickedness we ran to them. We saw them embracing, but we could not hold the man, for he was too strong for us, and he opened the doors and dashed out. So we seized this woman and asked her who the young man was, but she would not tell us. These things we testify.” The assembly believed them, because they were elders of the people and judges; and they condemned her to death.
Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice, and said, “O eternal God, who dost discern what is secret, who art aware of all things before they come to be, thou knowest that these men have borne false witness against me. And now I am to die! Yet I have done none of the things that they have wickedly invented against me!”
The Lord heard her cry. And as she was being led away to be put to death, God aroused the holy spirit of a young lad named Daniel; and he cried with a loud voice, “I am innocent of the blood of this woman.”
All the people turned to him, and said, “What s this that you have said?” Taking his stand in the midst of them, he said, “Are you such fools, you sons of Israel? Have you condemned a daughter of Israel without examination and without learning the facts? Return to the place of judgment. For these men have borne false witness against her.” Then all the people returned in haste. And the elders said to him, “Come, sit among us and inform us, for God has given you that right.” And Daniel said to them, “Separate them far from each other, and I will examine them.”
When they were separated from each other, he summoned one of them and said to him, “You old relic of wicked days, your sins have now come home, which you have committed in the past, pronouncing unjust judgments, condemning the innocent and letting the guilty go free, though the Lord said, `Do not put to death an innocent and righteous person.’ Now then, if you really saw her, tell me this: Under what tree did you see them being intimate with each other?” He answered, “Unde a mastic tree.” And Daniel said, “Very well! You have lied against your own head, for the angel of God has received the sentence from God and will immediately cut you in two.”
Then he put him aside, and commanded them to bring the other. And he said to him, “You offspring of Canaan and not of Judah, beauty has deceived you and lust has perverted your heart. This is how you both have been dealing with the daughters of Israel, and they were intimate with you through fear; but a daughter of Judah would not endure your wickedness. Now then, tell me: Under what tree did you catch them being intimate with each other?” He answered, “Under an evergreen oak.” And Daniel said to him, “Very well! You also have lied against your own head, for the angel of God is waiting with his sword to saw you in two, that he may destroy you both.”
Then all the assembly shouted loudly and blessed God, who saves those who hope in him. And they rose against the two elders, for out of their own mouths Daniel hd convicted them of bearing false witness; and they did to them as they had wickedly planned to do to their neighbour; acting in accordance with the law of Moses, they put them to death. Thus innocent blood was saved that day.
Gospel: John 8:1-11
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him and he sat down and began to teach them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery; and making her stand before all of them, they said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They said this to test him, so that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once again he bent down and wrote on the ground. When they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the elders; and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, No one, sir.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”