Stones….we like to throw them at other people. I am always intrigued a bit by people who listen to a self-help style of presentation and pigeon-hole others into boxes rather than figuring out how the new knowledge might be healing for that person. I can be guilty of doing this myself but it is usually because it reveals something that I need to learn about myself in order to interact more positively with the other person. In today’s readings, we see people ready to harm others because of the accusations brought against them, even without knowing all the facts. I think stone-throwing comes from our own fears and insecurities most of the time. Maybe if we stopped being so afraid we would pay more attention to our own lives like Susanna in the first reading.
I love the story of Susanna. I first heard about it three decades ago when I was giving my first men’s retreat. I was terrified because I was the only young single woman on the team and was going to be presenting to a packed house of males. Some of the men seemed unsure why I was there and even, dare I say it, annoyed that I was. After the first evening, the director of the retreat centre said something to me in French and laughed. I responded that I had not understood and he then asked if I knew the story in Daniel 13. I had never heard it but pulled my bible out that night and read it. I have since called it the Book of Susanna. Non-Catholics will be unfamiliar with it as it is not in most Christian bibles and even Catholics will not have heard it often unless they go to week day mass. The tale of the two treacherous, lecherous elders who attempt to seduce Susanna into sin reveals the righteousness of a woman who places her hope in God. I am not really sure what the priest had in mind by having me read it but I like to think he was telling me my faith would impress some of these men.
Susanna is a beautiful woman who is raised in her faith which probably illuminates her life and makes her even more appealing. Married to a wealthy and popular man, she is well-received in the community until the two men try to convince her to sleep with them. She refuses to comply and remains steadfast in hope that God will intervene somehow. She would rather be put to death than sin against her Beloved. The people, when they hear the lies that are told about Susanna, believe they are true. Somehow they lose their common sense and admiration for Susanna because of these elders when really they are, as Daniel announces, pronouncing unjust judgments to protect their own lusts and darkness. Susanna is saved by Daniel’s clever uncovering of the crime committed against her and all praised God because of it. Susanna’s great trust in her God is inspiring in the face of punishment, dishonour, and death. She never second guesses her decision to remain faithful, even when all around her are ashamed of what they believe she has done. I have wondered sometimes if she exchanged words with her husband about his lack of faith in her but different eras elicit different reactions I am sure.
The Gospel is the well-known story of the woman caught in adultery. Much has been written about this encounter. Jesus’ response to the mob who looks at her sin instead of their own or that of a society that has probably put her in this position in the first place is priceless. The one without sin is to throw the first stone. He scribbles in the sand so as not to condemn any gathered. One by one the men leave and she is left alone with her Saviour. We pick up stones pretty quickly most days. I have been trying to work on breaking this habit a bit during Lent but I am failing somewhat. In spiritual direction, I have found that retreatants that come with judgments are often lacking the self-esteem they need to let others be free to make mistakes. This has been a good mirror for me. The ability to put the stone down and reflect on my own issues has been helpful in finding greater freedom. Looking at our own dark sides is scary but it does create healing and wholeness when we set out to do it. Once we are free, we are more likely to judge others less and have more compassion. In the responsorial psalm (23) we hear that even though we walk through the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, because God is with us. Susanna knew this in ways that I hope I can too.
To be able to stand silently when others accuse of wrong-doings or to trust God in the moments when fear might overcome us is a remarkable feat. Those who hope in the Lord can raise a great shout and bless God for the graces received. Susanna and the nameless woman knew what it was to be falsely persecuted. God intervened both times for them in powerful and humbling ways. We will see Jesus stand silently before his accusers soon. He is ever our model. The question tonight though is really about whether we want to be in the role of the accuser or do we want to be more compassionate to those around us. These two women show us that we can misjudge people when we do not know the whole story. I am going to keep trying to be more curious instead of believing I know what is going on in the minds and hearts of others. I hope to lay down my stones and fears so that I may learn better how to follow Christ’s example of not responding to the tales that I hear from the accusers and haters in life.
How have you judged someone unfairly?
When have you been judged unjustly and desired a Divine intervention?
Sand-Scribbler, you do not judge us as we deserve. Instead you are merciful and loving, calling us to hope in you and trust in a loving God. You do not accuse us nor do you shame us. How wonderfully blessed we are to belong to you! Amen.