We live in glass houses

LENT 2020 – Day 34

Readings: Dan 13: 1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; Ps 22, 1-3a, 3b-4, 5-6; Jn 8, 1-11

Today’s first reading is one of the longest in the lectionary, and its tenor one-off. The amorous story is seemingly at variance with the mood of the Holy Week. It reads like a sensational story taken straight from the front pages of a newspaper or a racy novella. Except for the presence of a moral, for sure.

The reading talks of two men whom beauty has deceived and lust perverted the heart. As if that were not enough, the duo comprised elders of society who sinned by pronouncing “unjust judgements, condemning the innocent and letting the guilty go free.”

Prophet Daniel jumps into the arena to call their bluff. The law permitted this even if the accused were already on the way to their death. The two perverts were going to bear false witness, condemning a daughter of Israel without examining her and learning the facts, as the law prescribed. Daniel told them in no uncertain terms that the angel of God was waiting with his sword to saw them in two. Then all the assembly shouted loudly and blessed God, for they saw that God truly saves those who hope in Him. And, instead of Susanna, the two met their death.

Why this story? It belongs to the so-called Daniel cycle at Qumran and aims to contrast virtue and iniquity. It has a striking parallel in the Gospel story that shows Jesus perfecting the ancient Jewish law that overlooked the husband’s infidelity to his marriage vows.

Jesus cuts to the chase when the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. They demanded to know His opinion on the punishment she deserved as per the law of Moses. They were obviously laying a trap for Jesus. This would add to the string of accusations leading to His death. If he forgave her, He would be accused of going against the law. On the other hand, if He condemned her, they would accuse him of lack of mercy. They would even say that he had appropriated power that belonged to the Roman authority.

Hence, Jesus simply said: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And they would have done so gladly and shamelessly. Meanwhile, Jesus began to write names of the male accusers guilty of the same crime. Slowly, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest. Then Jesus turned to the woman, and said, “Go, and do not sin again.”

Jesus did not close His eyes to the woman's sin. He commanded her not to sin again. He cornered the men, convinced that they should not go scot-free by virtue of their gender. The law of God applies equally to all. But alas, human nature is such that very often those in authority, the elders and the so-called wise, pervert and corrupt the minds of the unwary. They bear false witness – something so common even in legislatures and courts today – and have no qualms about meting out the severest punishment to the innocent. After all, wasn’t Jesus Himself the worst victim ever of most monstrous faults in a purported justice system?

To victims of atrocities the Psalm addresses a comforting answer: “If I should walk in the valley of darkness no evil would I fear, for you are there.” It is not that we should take things lying down. We have to be firm and to act, convinced meanwhile that “the Lord is my Shepherd.” He is always there. He always makes His presence felt at the most unexpected moments.

Let, therefore, the prayer on our lips always be, “Your words, Lord, are spirit and life, You have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6: 63)

Here's how to move from darkness to light

LENT 2020 - Day 26
Sam 16, 1. 6-7, 10-13; Ps 22, 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6; Eph 5, 8-14; Jn 9, 1-41

Samuel thought God had meant Jesse’s eldest son Eliab to be the new king of Israel, for he had great physical attributes; God told him that “the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” What a lesson! When Samuel saw David, who had been out keeping the sheep, the Lord’s words “This is he!” were a confirmation that Jesse’s youngest son was meant to shepherd Israel.

King David became the luminous author of that familiar and most loved Psalm 23, among many others. Of course, given his background, it is in pastoral lingo that he expresses his serene conviction that the Lord is his Shepherd. The assurance that the Lord guides and protects us from every danger; that there is nothing we shall want, so nothing to fear, has always brought and will continue to bring solace to many a troubled soul.

Jesus is a descendant of the same David who wrote “If I should walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear.” And there comes St Paul with these eye-opening words: “Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” He exhorts us to walk as children of the light – lovers of the good, the right and the true – a veritable priesthood. “I am the light of the world, says the Lord; he who follows me will have the light of life.”(Jn 8,12) That’s a promise.

The Gospel of today is a practical illustration of how Jesus brings us out from the darkness to the light. He doesn’t look at our worldly learning but at our faith and trust in Him. Proof of this is that while the blind man became “enlightened” (so his blindness was not really a punishment for any previous sin, it was indeed a glorious way of manifesting God’s works), the proud Pharisees and others were gradually sinking into greater darkness – they’d refused to believe, or even plainly accept, so were blinded by the bright Light of the World.