Apr 4, 2022: Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

1st Reading – Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62

In Babylon there lived a man named Joakim,
who married a very beautiful and God-fearing woman, Susanna,
the daughter of Hilkiah;
her pious parents had trained their daughter
according to the law of Moses.
Joakim was very rich;
he had a garden near his house,
and the Jews had recourse to him often
because he was the most respected of them all.

That year, two elders of the people were appointed judges,
of whom the Lord said, “Wickedness has come out of Babylon:
from the elders who were to govern the people as judges.”
These men, to whom all brought their cases,
frequented the house of Joakim.
When the people left at noon,
Susanna used to enter her husband’s garden for a walk.
When the old men saw her enter every day for her walk,
they began to lust for her.
They suppressed their consciences;
they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven,
and did not keep in mind just judgments.

One day, while they were waiting for the right moment,
she entered the garden as usual, with two maids only.
She decided to bathe, for the weather was warm.
Nobody else was there except the two elders,
who had hidden themselves and were watching her.
“Bring me oil and soap,” she said to the maids,
“and shut the garden doors while I bathe.”

As soon as the maids had left,
the two old men got up and hurried to her.
“Look,” they said, “the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us;
give in to our desire, and lie with us.
If you refuse, we will testify against you
that you dismissed your maids because a young man was here with you.”

“I am completely trapped,” Susanna groaned.
“If I yield, it will be my death;
if I refuse, I cannot escape your power.
Yet it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt
than to sin before the Lord.”
Then Susanna shrieked, and the old men also shouted at her,
as one of them ran to open the garden doors.
When the people in the house heard the cries from the garden,
they rushed in by the side gate to see what had happened to her.
At the accusations by the old men,
the servants felt very much ashamed,
for never had any such thing been said about Susanna.

When the people came to her husband Joakim the next day,
the two wicked elders also came,
fully determined to put Susanna to death.
Before all the people they ordered:
“Send for Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah,
the wife of Joakim.”
When she was sent for,
she came with her parents, children and all her relatives.
All her relatives and the onlookers were weeping.

In the midst of the people the two elders rose up
and laid their hands on her head.
Through tears she looked up to heaven,
for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly.
The elders made this accusation:
“As we were walking in the garden alone, this woman entered with two girls
and shut the doors of the garden, dismissing the girls.
A young man, who was hidden there, came and lay with her.
When we, in a corner of the garden, saw this crime,
we ran toward them.
We saw them lying together,
but the man we could not hold, because he was stronger than we;
he opened the doors and ran off.
Then we seized her and asked who the young man was,
but she refused to tell us. We testify to this.”
The assembly believed them,
since they were elders and judges of the people,
and they condemned her to death.

But Susanna cried aloud:
“O eternal God, you know what is hidden
and are aware of all things before they come to be:
you know that they have testified falsely against me.
Here I am about to die,
though I have done none of the things
with which these wicked men have charged me.”

The Lord heard her prayer.
As she was being led to execution,
God stirred up the holy spirit of a young boy named Daniel,
and he cried aloud: “I will have no part in the death of this woman.”
All the people turned and asked him, “What is this you are saying?”
He stood in their midst and continued,
“Are you such fools, O children of Israel!
To condemn a woman of Israel without examination
and without clear evidence?
Return to court, for they have testified falsely against her.”

Then all the people returned in haste.
To Daniel the elders said, “Come, sit with us and inform us,
since God has given you the prestige of old age.”
But he replied,
“Separate these two far from each other that I may examine them.”

After they were separated one from the other,
he called one of them and said:
“How you have grown evil with age!
Now have your past sins come to term:
passing unjust sentences, condemning the innocent,
and freeing the guilty, although the Lord says,
‘The innocent and the just you shall not put to death.’
Now, then, if you were a witness,
tell me under what tree you saw them together.”
“Under a mastic tree,” he answered.
Daniel replied, “Your fine lie has cost you your head,
for the angel of God shall receive the sentence from him
and split you in two.”
Putting him to one side, he ordered the other one to be brought.
Daniel said to him,
“Offspring of Canaan, not of Judah, beauty has seduced you,
lust has subverted your conscience.
This is how you acted with the daughters of Israel,
and in their fear they yielded to you;
but a daughter of Judah did not tolerate your wickedness.
Now, then, tell me under what tree you surprised them together.”
“Under an oak,” he said.
Daniel replied, “Your fine lie has cost you also your head,
for the angel of God waits with a sword to cut you in two
so as to make an end of you both.”

The whole assembly cried aloud,
blessing God who saves those who hope in him.
They rose up against the two elders,
for by their own words Daniel had convicted them of perjury.
According to the law of Moses, they inflicted on them
the penalty they had plotted to impose on their neighbor:
they put them to death.
Thus was innocent blood spared that day.

Today’s first reading is the story of Susanna and the Elders, one of the most popular passages in the Book of Daniel. Its well-drawn characters and scenarios, along with the fact that it forms an independent narrative, point to the likelihood that it probably existed on its own originally, independent of the rest of the book.

In Babylon there lived a man named Joakim, who married a very beautiful and God-fearing woman, Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah; her pious parents had trained their daughter according to the law of Moses. Joakim was very rich; he had a garden near his house, and the Jews had recourse to him often because he was the most respected of them all.

Susanna is a beautiful and righteous woman who is part of a well-to-do Jewish family living in Babylon.

In 587 BC, the Babylonians under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar, sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. They deported the Jewish aristocracy and learned classes to Babylon in what came to be called “The Babylonian Exile.”

Joakim is Jewish. His name means “lifted by Jehovah.” That he is a wealthy Jew living in captivity in Babylon reinforces the idea that he has been elevated or blessed by God.

That year, two elders of the people were appointed judges, of whom the Lord said, “Wickedness has come out of Babylon: from the elders who were to govern the people as judges.”

The age of adulthood for Jewish males is twelve, so these “elders” could have been as young as their thirties or forties. That they were appointed as judges suggests that they were well-versed in the law of Moses and respected by the community.

The quote attributed to God regarding the wicked character of these two judges was likely an epitaph. Perhaps the reader is to intuit that it comes from the prophet Daniel.

These men, to whom all brought their cases, frequented the house of Joakim.

As a man of wealth, Joakim was popular with his fellow Jews in exile. The text suggests that his door was always open to them.

The two judges are at Joakim’s house so frequently that people just know to go there to find them if they have a case that needs to be decided.

When the people left at noon, Susanna used to enter her husband’s garden for a walk.

Babylon was known for its lush and beautiful gardens. Though a desert city, its proximity to the Euphrates River allowed for the cultivation of trees and other vegetation.

The public activity at Joakim’s house is suspended each day at lunchtime (the host’s hospitality does not seem to extend to feeding the whole community every day!). The break in activity provides Joakim’s wife a small window in which to enjoy her home.

When the old men saw her enter every day for her walk, they began to lust for her. They suppressed their consciences; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven, and did not keep in mind just judgments.

The point is clearly made that what leads the two elders astray is lust. They are supposed to be providing leadership to the people, but they allow themselves to become inflamed with lust and become lecherous voyeurs.

One day, while they were waiting for the right moment, she entered the garden as usual, with two maids only. She decided to bathe, for the weather was warm. Nobody else was there except the two elders, who had hidden themselves and were watching her. “Bring me oil and soap,” she said to the maids, “and shut the garden doors while I bathe.”

The text is very clear about Susanna’s innocence. She was accompanied by two maids and was within what she thought was the privacy of her own home. She did nothing to encourage the two men.

The men’s act of voyeurism is, even by itself, is a crime against Susanna.

As soon as the maids had left, the two old men got up and hurried to her. “Look,” they said, “the garden doors are shut, and no one can see us; give in to our desire, and lie with us. If you refuse, we will testify against you that you dismissed your maids because a young man was here with you.”

The two elders approach her with an infamous proposal.

“I am completely trapped,” Susanna groaned. “If I yield, it will be my death; if I refuse, I cannot escape your power. Yet it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt than to sin before the Lord.” 

Susanna recognizes immediately the impossible position she has been placed in. These two men are men of power and influence in the community. They hold trusted positions. They are friends of her husband. There are two of them and only one of her. And to top it all off, she is naked in the bath.

Susanna is both literally and metaphorically in a compromised position.

As a student of the law, she knows full well that adultery means death for her.
Yet if she screams, she knows already that her side of the story will not be believed and she will still be facing the death penalty.

Then Susanna shrieked, and the old men also shouted at her, as one of them ran to open the garden doors. When the people in the house heard the cries from the garden, they rushed in by the side gate to see what had happened to her.

Faced with the dilemma of saving her life by sinning against God, or dying by staying faithful, Susanna opts for the latter. She repulses the old men and cries out for help.

At the accusations by the old men, the servants felt very much ashamed, for never had any such thing been said about Susanna.

Though Susanna’s maids knew her well and knew that a secret liaison was completely out of character, they feel ashamed for their part in the alleged adulterous rendezvous.

When the people came to her husband Joakim the next day, the two wicked elders also came, fully determined to put Susanna to death. Before all the people they ordered: “Send for Susanna, the daughter of Hilkiah, the wife of Joakim.” When she was sent for, she came with her parents, children and all her relatives. All her relatives and the onlookers were weeping.

Ironically, the site of the assault also becomes the courthouse where the innocent victim is tried as the perpetrator of a fictitious crime — by the very persons who committed the real crime.

In the midst of the people the two elders rose up and laid their hands on her head. Through tears she looked up to heaven, for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly.

Susanna is a model for all people as they endure the trials of life. She cannot prove her innocence to the people, but she can certainly assert it to God, who knows all things.

The elders made this accusation: “As we were walking in the garden alone, this woman entered with two girls and shut the doors of the garden,  dismissing the girls. A young man, who was hidden there, came and lay with her. When we, in a corner of the garden, saw this crime, we ran toward them. We saw them lying together, but the man we could not hold, because he was stronger than we; he opened the doors and ran off. Then we seized her and asked who the young man was, but she refused to tell us. We testify to this.”

The assembly believed them, since they were elders and judges of the people, and they condemned her to death.

The dramatic tension reaches its climax with the sentence passed on Susanna.

The crowd becomes unwitting co-conspirators in the matter. No one questions why the men were in the garden in the first place. No one asks them to describe the young man. They don’t ask Susanna to tell her side of the story. And they don’t question the integrity of the judges. Without asking a single question, they find Susanna guilty as charged.

But Susanna cried aloud: “O eternal God, you know what is hidden and are aware of all things before they come to be: you know that they have testified falsely against me. Here I am about to die, though I have done none of the things with which these wicked men have charged me.”

The Lord heard her prayer.

Having been found guilty and condemned to death, Susanna — who has been silent up to this point — appeals the verdict. She cries out to God

Though her plea falls on deaf ears among the people in the crowd, God hears her cry.

As she was being led to execution, God stirred up the holy spirit of a young boy named Daniel, and he cried aloud: “I will have no part in the death of this woman.”

God responds by rousing the spirit of prophecy (here called “the holy spirit”) in Daniel, who as a young man is very different from the elders.

Daniel was among the Jewish captives taken to Babylon during the exile. He found a place in the king’s court where, despite threats to his life from the pagan priests, Daniel held fast to his Jewish faith. He became known by both the Babylonians and the Jews for his righteousness, his unswerving faith, and his abilities as a soothsayer.

He speaks up in Susanna’s defense.

All the people turned and asked him, “What is this you are saying?” He stood in their midst and continued, “Are you such fools, O children of Israel! To condemn a woman of Israel without examination and without clear evidence? Return to court, for they have testified falsely against her.”

Then all the people returned in haste.

Daniel criticizes the people for being taken in so easily by the elders, and he convinces them to reopen the case.

To Daniel the elders said, “Come, sit with us and inform us, since God has given you the prestige of old age.” But he replied, “Separate these two far from each other that I may examine them.”

Daniel now takes on the role of defense attorney.

After they were separated one from the other, he called one of them and said:
“How you have grown evil with age! Now have your past sins come to term:
passing unjust sentences, condemning the innocent, and freeing the guilty, although the Lord says, ‘The innocent and the just you shall not put to death.’

Daniel begins his cross-examination by questioning the credibility of the men themselves. For the first, he points out his recent record as a judge, how he is known for pronouncing unjust judgments.

Now, then, if you were a witness, tell me under what tree you saw them together.” “Under a mastic tree,” he answered. 

Daniel employs a tactic that is a staple of good detective work: separate the witnesses and see if their story aligns.

Daniel replied, “Your fine lie has cost you your head, for the angel of God shall receive the sentence from him and split you in two.”

Remember, Daniel is operating under God’s spirit of prophecy. He knows how this will end.

Putting him to one side, he ordered the other one to be brought. Daniel said to him, “Offspring of Canaan, not of Judah, beauty has seduced you, lust has subverted your conscience. This is how you acted with the daughters of Israel, and in their fear they yielded to you; but a daughter of Judah did not tolerate your wickedness.

Turning to the second man, Daniel begins by questioning his lineage,  suggesting that he is really of Canaanite descent and not Israelite. He goes on to suggest that this man had a reputation for sexually assaulting young, socially vulnerable women (Israel had fallen 150 years prior to Judah, and so “the daughters of Israel” would have likely been those considered refugees).

Now, then, tell me under what tree you surprised them together.” “Under an oak,” he said.

The great difference in size between a mastic and an oak makes the elders’ lie plain to all.

Daniel replied, “Your fine lie has cost you also your head, for the angel of God waits with a sword to cut you in two so as to make an end of you both.”

In the Greek text, the names of the trees cited by the elders form puns with the sentences given by Daniel.

The whole assembly cried aloud, blessing God who saves those who hope in him. They rose up against the two elders, for by their own words Daniel had convicted them of perjury. According to the law of Moses, they inflicted on them the penalty they had plotted to impose on their neighbor: they put them to death. Thus was innocent blood spared that day.

God’s justice prevails: Susanna is exonerated, the men are convicted, and Daniel gains a great reputation.

Psalm 23:1-6

R. Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; for you are at my side.

The responsorial psalm for this week comes from Psalm 23, one of the most familiar and best-loved psalms of the entire psalter.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose;

The psalm opens with a metaphor that sets the tone for the entire song. It is the responsibility of a shepherd to find pastures that will provide enough grazing and abundant water for the entire flock, to lead them there without allowing any of the sheep to stray and be lost, to guard them against predators or dangers of any kind, and to attend to their every need.

To characterize the LORD as a shepherd is to trust that God will discharge all of these responsibilities. This metaphor is common in both the Old Testament (Ezekial 34:11-16) and the New Testament (John 10:11-18).

beside restful waters he leads me; 

What makes this psalm special is its personal dimension. The psalm shifts the care given to the entire flock to concern for one individual, making God’s providence a very intimate matter.

he refreshes my soul.

Not only are the physical needs of the psalmist satisfied, but the soul, the very life force (nepesh) of the person is renewed.

He guides me in right paths for his name’s sake.

The guidance of the shepherd is more than provident, it is moral as well. The psalmist is led in the paths of righteousness (i.e., the “right way”), and this is done for the sake of the LORD’s name. Since one’s name is a part of the very essence of the person, this indicates that the way of the LORD is the way of righteousness.

Even though I walk in the dark valley I fear no evil; 

The valley of “deep darkness” can be a reference to the darkest part of the terrain or to the gloom that can overwhelm an individual. It also has a mythological connotation and is frequently interpreted as death. Whichever meaning is intended, the psalmist claims to be unafraid, for the presence of the LORD is reassuring.

for you are at my side with your rod and your staff that give me courage.

The psalmist is confident of the LORD’s protection, as demonstrated in his mention of the shepherd’s rod and staff, which were used to ward off wild animals and poachers.

Notice how the sense of security that the LORD gives, even in the midst of affliction, allows the speaker to address him directly.

You spread the table before me in the sight of my foes;

Another metaphor is introduced: God is a generous host, one who prepares a lavish banquet and within whose house the psalmist ultimately dwells.

Many societies have a very strict code of hospitality. They are obliged to provide the very best provisions they have, even for their enemies. The LORD does just that here, which not only affords nourishment but also is a public witness to God’s high regard for the psalmist.

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

A perfumed ointment made from olive oil was used especially at banquets (Psalm 104:15; Matthew 26:7; Luke 7:37; John 12:2).

The LORD has made the psalmist his guest, anointing him and filling him with good things.

Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life;

The magnanimous care and generosity shown by God flow from enduring covenant kindness (hesed) rather than from some mere passing sentiment of heart. The psalmist expresses confidence that he will go on enjoying the benefits of the Covenant for the rest of his life.

and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for years to come.

Whether this refers to the Temple or simply indicates the place where God dwells, the fundamental meaning is clear: The psalmist has been under the loving guidance of the LORD and will remain there forever.

Gospel – John 8:12-20

Jesus spoke to them again, saying,
“I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness,
but will have the light of life.”
So the Pharisees said to him,
“You testify on your own behalf,
so your testimony cannot be verified.”
Jesus answered and said to them,
“Even if I do testify on my own behalf, my testimony can be verified,
because I know where I came from and where I am going.
But you do not know where I come from or where I am going.
You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone.
And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid,
because I am not alone,
but it is I and the Father who sent me.
Even in your law it is written
that the testimony of two men can be verified.
I testify on my behalf and so does the Father who sent me.”
So they said to him, “Where is your father?”
Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father.
If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”
He spoke these words
while teaching in the treasury in the temple area.
But no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

We continue our journey in John’s gospel. Jesus has another dispute with the Pharisees over his identity.

The scene is the precincts of the temple; it is still the Feast of Tabernacles.

Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

It was the custom on the first night of the Feast of Tabernacles to fill the temple precincts with the bright light of huge lamps which lit up the sky. This was meant to remind the people of the bright cloud of God’s presence which guided the Israelites through the wilderness during the Exodus.

It was probably during this part of the feast, or in reference to it, that Jesus spoke of himself as “the Light.”

Further, the image of light is often found in the Old Testament to designate the Messiah. For example, the prophet Isaiah predicted that a great light would shine for the people who walked in darkness (Isaiah 9:1-6) and that the Messiah would not only be the King of Israel but the light of the nations (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6).

This image applies to Jesus in two ways: 1) he is the light which enlightens our minds, for he is the fullness of divine revelation (John 1:9, 18), and 2) he is also the light which enlightens our hearts to enable us to accept this revelation and live according to it (John 1:4-5).

This is why Jesus asks his disciples to follow him and become “sons of light” (John 12:36), although he knows that many will reject this light because they do not want their evil deeds to be uncovered (John 3:20).

So the Pharisees said to him, “You testify on your own behalf, so your testimony cannot be verified.”

The Pharisees try to dilute the force of Jesus’ arguments: they claim that he has only his own word to go on and no one can bear witness on his own behalf. Therefore, according to them, what Jesus says has no validity.

Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I do testify on my own behalf, my testimony can be verified, because I know where I came from and where I am going. But you do not know where I come from or where I am going.

Recall the similar situation we heard in our readings last week (John 5:31-47), when Jesus cited four witnesses to support him: John the Baptist’s teaching, the miracles he himself performed, the words the Father spoke when he was baptized in the Jordan, and Holy Scripture.

Here Jesus affirms the validity of his own testimony on the grounds that he is one with the Father. This is the same as saying that his is a more than human testimony.

“Where I am going” is seen as a reference to Jesus’ passion and glorification.

You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone.

The literal translation is “you judge according to the flesh.”

Jesus assertion that he does not judge anyone contradicts his earlier claim to be the supreme judge in John 5:19-30, but the contradiction is only superficial. Here the emphasis is that Christ’s judgment is not by material standards.

And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid, because I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me. Even in your law it is written that the testimony of two men can be verified. I testify on my behalf and so does the Father who sent me.”

What makes Jesus’ judgment valid above all others is the Father’s concurrence with him (“I am not alone”) and the Father’s commission to him (“the Father who sent me”).

So they said to him, “Where is your father?”

The Pharisees, who did not want to admit Jesus’ divine origin, now ask him for proof that what he says is true.

Their question is insidious and malicious, for they do not think he can show them the Father.

Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

Knowing Jesus, that is, believing in him and accepting the mystery of his divinity, means knowing the Father.

Jesus is the visible manifestation of the invisible God, the ultimate, definitive revelation of God to men (Hebrews 1:1-3).

He spoke these words while teaching in the treasury in the temple area.

The treasury, where money for the poor was collected, was located in the women’s courtyard of the temple.

But no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

Saint John weaves this statement throughout his gospel in the passages leading up to Jesus’ arrest, to show that Jesus acts freely when, to fulfill his Father’s will, he gives himself over to his enemies when his “hour” arrives (John 18:4-8).

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