Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17
Psalm 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
The intention of the scribes and pharisees in bringing the woman caught in adultery before Jesus was to test him. They had little concern for the woman and her fate; they sought only to trap Jesus with a difficult dilemma. Like the question about paying taxes to Caesar, the question of punishing the adulteress was not a simple yes or no answer. If Jesus says no, his doctrine of God’s merciful love would violate the law of Moses; if he says yes, then he would be inconsistent with his message of mercy toward sinners (Bl. John Paul II, 1 April 2001). Jesus uses the opportunity to bring the old law of Moses to its fulfillment and expose the self-righteousness of the pharisees, who were not without sin.
The case of Susanna also represents a difficult dilemma. If she acquiesces to the evil intentions of the old men and does not cry for help, the old men will have their way with her and she will have no way of accusing them; if she does cry out, they will act as two witnesses and will falsely accuse her of adultery. Susanna chooses to cry for help, for she trusts in the Lord. Today’s psalm is her prayer: “Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you, O Lord, are at my side”.
There are several parallels between the episode of Susanna and that of the woman caught in adultery. In the Old Testament, Susanna is accused (falsely) of adultery by two elders of the people. In the New Testament, a woman is accused of adultery by the scribes and pharisees, the elders of the people of Israel. The old men are wicked because they are slaves to lust and men of deceit. The scribes and the pharisees boast of their self-righteousness and try to deceive Jesus into a trap. In the Old Testament, Daniel, stirred by the Holy Spirit, uncovers the lie of the wicked men and Susanna’s innocent blood is spared. In the New Testament, Jesus uncovers the false intentions of the scribes and pharisees and the woman is forgiven and spared.
Jesus does not condone the sin of adultery or make light of it. He is fully aware of how this sin destroys the spousal covenant and creates division in the family. The Gospel verse sheds light on Jesus’ intention: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord, but rather in his conversion, that he may live” (Ezekiel 33:11).
The hearts of the old, wicked men, were corrupt and had no place for God. The heart of the adulteress, though wounded by sin, was open to God’s mercy. The old men remained in their sin; the adulteress was released from sin. What will we choose as we approach Holy Week? Will we harden our hearts, like the old men, to God’s love and choose sin over life or will we open our our hearts, like the adulteress, to God’s love and choose life over sin? Will we be like the old men and persist in deceit or will we be like Daniel and testify to the truth? Will we imitate the unmerciful pharisees or will strive to follow Jesus and imitate the mercy of God?
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org.