DAILY READINGS AND REFLECTION — Monday, 5TH Week in Lent, 30 March 2020
In these days of info overload, I seriously wonder how many will read the long, looooong, story of Susanna and the two dirty old men in today’s first reading. If we don’t do it now during the MCO, we’ll probably never read it all the rest of our life! Read it, deposit and invest it in our capital of biblical stories we must have and from which we can draw lessons and wisdom all our life.
It is also important to read both the readings. If we don’t, the reflection that follows will be less fruitful. Make a sensible choice on what to load and what not to overload. On the one hand, as we have been told since the very beginning of Lent, we need to live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. On the other, we already know enough about the virus and there is no need to spend the whole day fixated on the latest news on it, otherwise we will got cuckoo and at the same time weakened not by a famine of food, but the Word of God! — Rector
Daniel 13:1-9,15-17,19-30,33-62 — Susannah and the elders
IN Babylon there lived a man named Joakim. He had married Susanna daughter of Hilkiah, a woman of great beauty; and she was God-fearing, because her parents were worthy people and had instructed their daughter in the Law of Moses. Joakim was a very rich man, and had a garden attached to his house; the Jews would often visit him since he was held in greater respect than any other man.
Two elderly men had been selected from the people that year to act as judges. Of such the Lord said, ‘Wickedness has come to Babylon through the elders and judges posing as guides to the people.’
These men were often at Joakim’s house, and all who were engaged in litigation used to come to them. At midday, when everyone had gone, Susanna used to take a walk in her husband’s garden. The two elders, who used to watch her every day as she came in to take her walk, gradually began to desire her.
They threw reason aside, making no effort to turn their eyes to heaven, and forgetting its demands of virtue. So they waited for a favourable moment; and one day Susanna came as usual, accompanied only by two young maidservants. The day was hot and she wanted to bathe in the garden. There was no one about except the two elders, spying on her from their hiding place. She said to the servants, ‘Bring me some oil and balsam and shut the garden door while I bathe.’
Hardly were the servants gone than the two elders were there after her. ‘Look,’ they said ‘the garden door is shut, no one can see us. We want to have you, so give in and let us! Refuse, and we will both give evidence that a young man was with you and that was why you sent your maids away.’ Susanna sighed. ‘I am trapped,’ she said ‘whatever I do. If I agree, that means my death; if I resist, I cannot get away from you. But I prefer to fall innocent into your power than to sin in the eyes of the Lord.’
Then she cried out as loud as she could. The two elders began shouting too, putting the blame on her, and one of them ran to open the garden door. The household, hearing the shouting in the garden, rushed out by the side entrance to see what was happening; once the elders had told their story the servants were thoroughly taken aback, since nothing of this sort had ever been said of Susanna.
Next day a meeting was held at the house of her husband Joakim. The two elders arrived, in their vindictiveness determined to have her put to death. They addressed the company: ‘Summon Susanna daughter of Hilkiah and wife of Joakim.’ She was sent for, and came accompanied by her parents, her children and all her relations. All her own people were weeping, and so were all the others who saw her. The two elders stood up, with all the people round them, and laid their hands on the woman’s head.
Tearfully she turned her eyes to heaven, her heart confident in God. The elders then spoke. ‘While we were walking by ourselves in the garden, this woman arrived with two servants. She shut the garden door and then dismissed the servants. A young man who had been hiding went over to her and they lay down together. From the end of the garden where we were, we saw this crime taking place and hurried towards them.
‘Though we saw them together we were unable to catch the man: he was too strong for us; he opened the door and took to his heels. We did, however, catch this woman and ask her who the young man was. She refused to tell us. That is our evidence.’
Since they were elders of the people, and judges, the assembly took their word: Susanna was condemned to death. She cried out as loud as she could, ‘Eternal God, you know all secrets and everything before it happens; you know that they have given false evidence against me. And now have I to die, innocent as I am of everything their malice has invented against me?’
The Lord heard her cry and, as she was being led away to die, he roused the holy spirit residing in a young boy named Daniel who began to shout, ‘I am innocent of this woman’s death!’ At which all the people turned to him and asked, ‘What do you mean by these words?’ Standing in the middle of the crowd he replied, ‘Are you so stupid, sons of Israel, as to condemn a daughter of Israel unheard, and without troubling to find out the truth? Go back to the scene of the trial: these men have given false evidence against her.’
All the people hurried back, and the elders said to Daniel, ‘Come and sit with us and tell us what you mean, since God has given you the gifts that elders have.’ Daniel said, ‘Keep the men well apart from each other for I want to question them.’
When the men had been separated, Daniel had one of them brought to him. ‘You have grown old in wickedness,’ he said ‘and now the sins of your earlier days have overtaken you, you with your unjust judgements, your condemnation of the innocent, your acquittal of guilty men, when the Lord has said, “You must not put the innocent and the just to death.” Now then, since you saw her so clearly, tell me what tree you saw them lying under?’ He replied, ‘Under a mastic tree.’ Daniel said, ‘True enough! Your lie recoils on your own head: the angel of God has already received your sentence from him and will slash you in half.’
He dismissed the man, ordered the other to be brought and said to him, ‘Spawn of Canaan, not of Judah, beauty has seduced you, lust has led your heart astray! This is how you have been behaving with the daughters of Israel and they were too frightened to resist; but here is a daughter of Judah who could not stomach your wickedness! Now then, tell me what tree you surprised them under?’ He replied, ‘Under a holm oak.’ Daniel said, ‘True enough! Your lie recoils on your own head: the angel of God is waiting, with a sword to drive home and split you, and destroy the pair of you.’
Then the whole assembly shouted, blessing God, the saviour of those who trust in him. And they turned on the two elders whom Daniel had convicted of false evidence out of their own mouths. As prescribed in the Law of Moses, they sentenced them to the same punishment as they had intended to inflict on their neighbour. They put them to death; the life of an innocent woman was spared that day.
John 8:1-11 — ‘Let the one among you who has not sinned be the first to throw a stone’
JESUS went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.
The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’ They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him.
But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then he bent down and wrote on the ground again.
When they heard this, they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. He looked up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and do not sin anymore.’
TWO women come into our Lenten view in today’s readings: Susanna from the Book of Daniel and the Sinful Woman in the Gospel of St. John. Their stories teach us about the mystery of sin and death, conversion and life, driven by the boundless mercy of God. They teach us about Lent.
Susanna was a woman of great beauty, the virtuous and faithful wife of Joakim*. Though innocent, she was falsely accused and condemned to death for adultery by two elders who claimed they were direct witnesses to the crime. The adulterous ones, in fact, were the two elders themselves. They had been enraged by Susanna’s refusal to give in to their lustful approaches.
Then, abusing their position of trust as judges, they used a trumped-up charge to hit back at Susanna, the same threat they had actually used in their attempt to succumb her to their lustful passions. But the fabricated accusation was unravelled by the wisdom of a young saviour, Daniel. Justice was served. The wicked elders were executed, the life of an innocent woman was saved.
Like Susanna, when unjustly condemned, we need to turn to God secure in the belief that He will always hear, rescue, and vindicate us according to His perfect justice, if not while here on earth then in the hereafter. Of course, the story of Susanna the victim and Daniel the saviour only prefigures the true story of Christ, the real Victim and the real Saviour of sinners.
Though innocent but judged guilty and condemned to a shameful death, Jesus never stopped trusting totally in His Father. He was more than saved and vindicated, for by the power of God, He conquered even death and was raised to life to justify the sins of many. With Christ, we too can and must count on the justice and salvation of God.
When life is cruel and others are unjust to us, we need to be wary about getting bitter and taking the law and justice into our own hands. United with Christ, we need to remain steadfast, always prayerfully trusting in the justice of God the Just Judge.
The Sinful Woman in the gospel was caught in the very act of adultery, lawfully and justly condemned by the elders and the crowd who were just about to stone her to death in public. But she was saved at the nick of time by the wisdom and mercy of our brave Jesus.
By her sin she deserved to die. Dragged along to be stoned, she had no choice but to accept the reality that sin actually brings death. Jesus came. All alone, He faced the angry and condemning crowd of self-righteous elders and people, confronted them with a simple but devastating fact that all were sinners.
He then bent down, started writing on the ground, and waited. They all left, beginning with the oldest who had most time to accumulate the most sins. Jesus rescued her from the jaws of death, pronounced a verdict of mercy, and told her the need of conversion, and new life. He hardly needed to tell her to be thankful.
I wonder if the two dirty and wicked old men caught lying by Daniel for giving the wrong names to trees ever repented? Did they make a perfect Act of Contrition before they were executed? If they did, I think God would have bent down, look on the ground and wrote His verdict on the earth: “Mercy”, “Pardon”, “Life” … even if they should die for now.
We should not be surprised with all these wonders about God. Even in the Old Testament, God was shocked by the insinuation that He took pleasure in killing sinners: “What!!! Am I likely to take pleasure in the death of the wicked man …and not prefer to see him renounce his wickedness and live?” (Ez 18:23). This is the Gospel; this is the Good News. God wants us to live; only we bring death to ourselves by not renouncing our wickedness. Repent and live!” unless…, as we Hakkas say, “we don’t know die one”, (“umm di si”), then we don’t need to repent-loh!
That we must imitate God to be boundless in mercy for each other is particularly needed in our present MCO situation. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, parents and children, all, are forced to stay in the same house for weeks. It’s nice to talk about the rare opportunity to spend quality time together. But if we have always been a dysfunctional family, it can be hell, a hell to breed further contempt among the most familiar. I expect to hear many reports of heightened hate, vengeance… actual abuses and injuries…leaving behind more casualties perhaps than those killed by the virus outside.
Pray for the grace to repent, to forgive others, and allow others to forgive us in the family. It is the only way, God’s way, if we want to survive. If we really cannot do it, just tell the Lord: You do it, I just ikut-ikut (follow-follow) and by Your power, since we know too well that to forgive is divine. Only God alone can forgive; we human weaklings can only do a little bit, even when driver hard by divine grace.
Lord, give us the grace to choose repentance and offer forgiveness that we may not die but live!
*Amended: “Joakim” instead of “Hilkiah”