I first learned about Daniel 13 when I was part of a lay team presenting to a group of men at a local retreat centre. I was half my current age back then, and hardly had the confidence I now do. The house was full of men of all ages. When they began to arrive, the team gathered to greet them. As I took my place among the priests, married couples and older lay woman, I noticed an elderly man walk right by me without greeting me. I was more than invisible to him–I had the distinct feeling that I should not be there in his mind. I began to second guess my yes and what I had to offer. Later that evening as the team gathered, the director of the centre mentioned to me Daniel 13. I confessed that I had never read it. Before my light went out that night, I held the bible in my hand and wondered about this woman named Susanna who I had never heard about prior to that evening.
She is described as a very beautiful woman and one who feared the Lord. She was married with children, had righteous parents, and was well trained in the law of Moses. This is one of the longest first readings during a weekday mass and never heard on a Sunday. I have always wondered why Daniel gets the credit that belonged to Susanna for her fidelity to God and to her husband. Despite the lecherous judges that try to get her to sin, she remains steadfast. She refuses to give in to their scheming and is condemned to die as the judges lie. Her heart, we are told, trusted in the Lord, and she keeps her eyes on Heaven. She is powerless against these two witnesses who even without being judges had more influence than she did. As a woman, as righteous as she was, the men trumped her goodness. God however had different plans to reward and protect her. Susanna cries out: O Eternal God, you know what is secret and are aware of all things before they come to be” –God has it. Enter young Daniel to save the day and her life by exposing these two false witnesses and their wickedness.
Centuries later we continue to live in a world where women are unsafe. We live in a society that somehow still believes that men’s word is more credible than women’s. We need Daniels in our communities to speak the truth. We need women not to feel ashamed when their family, friends or they themselves face situations like this. Only twice in my life have I not believed a woman when she cried rape. Sadly, I turned out to be right in each case. One of the men accused of one of the assaults was a friend of mine and I knew he would never do such a thing. The woman had already cried wolf several other times and he was her latest target. What is secret is hard to uncover. The recent scandals in both Canada and the USA rip the scabs off wounds that are not healed for many women. Somehow I know too many survivors of sexual assault.
I read these verses one time at a mass when I was incredibly angry about what was going on in my church regarding two parishioners. If words could strike people dead, my proclamation would have caused a mass homicide. The words of Daniel exploded from my mouth with a vengeance I did not know I was capable of. I was tired of the secrets and the thought of an angel of God ready to split the perpetrator in two was far from repulsive. Normally, I am a pacifist but that night, I was angry. That intermittent anger has raged on in me for years. All it takes to surface is a story in the news or the disclosure of a friend.
The saving grace is found in Psalm 23. The Good Shepherd walks with us through those dark valleys. Women will find their place one day. That time has not arrived quick enough but every once in awhile, I see a glimpse of hope that is startling. The men’s retreat had a happy ending for me. I had been speaking about father-daughter relationships throughout the weekend. As that same elderly gentleman left, he stopped in front of me and looked me square in the eyes. He confessed that he thought upon arrival that I had no place being there but he had changed his mind and thanked me for my teachings.
Susanna chose God over sin and that could have gotten her killed. That is a powerful lesson this Lent. She trusted that the false evidence against her would crumble. All those who loved her deserted her. She stood in the circle of shame by herself but she knew that she had done no wrong. Every time I read this story of this strong woman, I am humbled and directed to a good path. May I learn to walk in it all the days of my life.
What is it like to be abandoned by everyone and to stand wrongly accused?
Do you cry out to God who knows what is secret for justice?
Eternal God, we cry out to you, that you may reveal what is secret to break us from our complacency and our fears. We are fools, still, after all this time, begging for evidence without seeking the Truth. Unravel our wicked plans, shatter the circle of shame, and heal our world. Amen.