Monday, March 10, 2008

Two Women accused of Adultery in Scripture

In the Liturgical Readings for today, we have the stories of two women accused of adultery. In the Old Testament Book of Daniel, we hear of Susanna. She is out taking her bath when two lustful old men (elders and judges of the people) come to her and want to rape her, telling her that if she does not go along with them, they will accuse her of adultery, which was punishable by death. She refuses their advances and screams for help. Sure enough, the judges follow through on their plan. She is given a farce of a trial where it is her word against theirs and the death sentence is about to be carried out when a young man named Daniel has the courage to step forward and cross-examine the judges. They are soon found guilty of perjury and sentenced to death themselves, while Susanna goes free.

In the Gospel of John, an adulterous woman is brought to Jesus. The Jewish leaders want to test him, to try to accuse him of some violation of Jewish law. So, they tell him that according to Jewish law, she is to be stoned. Jesus responds with silence, tracing his finger in the sand. Finally, he stands and says to them, "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Their guilty consciences begin to work on them and they all walk away, leaving the woman alone with Jesus, who tells her to "Go, and sin no more."

The parallels in the stories are interesting - two women accused of adultery - one falsely, one who we can presume was guilty, both of whom face the death sentence, but are at the last minute saved from that certain fate by a someone willing to stand up for them. At different times in our lives, we have probably played the roles of many of the characters in these passages, although the stakes were most likely so high. We have been the accusers, perhaps judging falsely, or perhaps convinced of our self-righteousness. We have been the victim, the one accused. Perhaps we did not do what we were accused of and had to maintain our innocence when everyone thought we were guilty. Perhaps we did commit the sin and had to face public shame and embarrassment. Maybe, just maybe, we were the courageous one who stood up for someone in a difficult situation.

Who will be today? We will be the ones who judge, or will we be like Jesus who forgives? Perhaps the most important lesson is the one Jesus leaves the woman with, "Go, and sin no more." Each day, we have the opportunity to turn away from sin and to love our neighbor more.

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