Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Daniel 13:41c-62 and John 8:12-20
The readings today are about witness, belief, trust and judgment.
The story of Susanna, which is an appendix of sorts to the book of the prophet Daniel, is about a woman falsely accused of adultery by two respected men in the community whose lechery she had refused. She is saved by Daniel, a young boy at the time, who distrusts the testimony of the men and persuades the assembly to take a closer look. The men are proved to be liars, Susanna is vindicated, and the judgment originally imposed on her is instead meted out to the men who perjured themselves.
The gospel passage from John is also about the credibility of testimony, in this case about the credibility of Jesus’s teaching. It is perhaps no mere coincidence that the immediately preceding passage in the gospel is the story of the woman caught in adultery (“Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”), another episode about judgment.
There are at least two elements that bind these two passages together. One is a reminder that our trust can be misplaced and that we can fail to see misleading witness for what it really is. It was apparently reasonable for the assembly to believe the elders rather than Susanna; it was apparently reasonable for the Pharisees to doubt Jesus—but in both cases they were wrong to do so.
The second element is the intervention of God to support the just witness. In Susanna’s case, the young Daniel is prompted to appeal on Susanna’s behalf and his clever interrogation reveals the truth. Appearances have deceived but God, in the person of his young prophet, reveals the truth and vindicates Susanna’s virtue and her faith in him.
The Pharisees, too, are deceived by appearances. Jesus is unexpected and his message is hard to reconcile with their convictions. Like the assembly in Susanna’s case, they prefer what seems to be trustworthy and in the end disdain a more challenging truth. Jewish law prescribed that two witnesses were necessary to prove the truth of a claim. Just as the assembly dismissed Susanna, the Pharisees dismiss Jesus because he is alone, or so they think.
He reminds them, instead, that he is not alone at all, since his Father is with him and confirms his teaching (through miracles of healing, for example). Even if the Pharisees are unable to see this, others are not and the truth will not remain hidden.
Robert G Kennedy, PhD
Professor and Chair
Department of Catholic Studies