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A Reflection for Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent

Find today’s readings here.

The sacred Scriptures are the single most important inspiration for art-making of the Western world, but sometimes we miss that they are also artistic creations. In the Scriptures, vivid stories and dramatic settings engage reality in a way that is always ready to give us more. Sadly, sometimes our Scriptures feel so familiar that we mute their revelatory potential. Gone is their power to surprise, question and move. Today, I invite you to imagine multiple converging lines and colors joining the story of Susanna and the woman Jesus saves. This merging should awaken us and invite us into their revelatory wisdom. Reflecting on these texts together reveals truly urgent insights with much to say to our day.

Person or property?

In these two highly dramatic stories, two women are accused, judged and sentenced to die. The first, Susanna from the Book of Daniel, is carefully named. The second, the woman from the Gospel of John, has no name. Noting this opens up questions. Does the Scripture name Susanna because she is the wife of a “very rich man”? What happens when we note that the house is Joakim’s, the garden is Joakim’s, and of course, the wife is Joakim’s.

When we turn our gaze to the Gospel account of the woman Jesus saves, related questions surface. Is her name forgotten because she is poor? Is she unnamed because she belongs to no one in a culture where her value is derived from her male relations? Even more, does this Gospel present us with a historical memory so well-known that even lacking her name it had to be preserved? Were the women of the early church responsible for passing along this story because Jesus’ actions restored them to their personhood? Did a woman’s life have any value in biblical times? Even more importantly, does a woman’s life have any value today?

Who are the invisible women around us? God is for women and their survival. Are we?

Where are the men?

In Susanna’s story, the mentions of her beauty reveal that even her own body is a danger to her. The elders have been looking for an opportunity to rape her, and their concocted story when caught is instructive. They invent a young lover. If true, the supposed encounter would have involved two people, but the man’s role is never considered. Susanna is judged only on the word of men who want to violate her.

In the unnamed woman’s story, we are told she “was caught in adultery,” yet conveniently she is also alone. If they had indeed caught her, why is the man not also brought? Again, the accusers are powerful men and the woman’s supposed lover is absent. Why are we so quick to blame the victims? Why is the testimony of women on their own behalf so easily discounted? Do we place the burden on women to keep themselves safe from assault?

Who will defend?

Although Susanna has a family and supposedly a husband, the lies of the men are enough for her to be condemned to death. The woman in the New Testament is even more heartbreakingly alone and also swiftly condemned to die. The weight of this realization should hit us with its full force. These women are about to be killed, sacrificed to the idolatry of laws that claim to guard sexual purity at the expense of women’s lives. In Susanna’s story, a young boy will speak God’s wisdom, expose the lie and prevent her death. In the New Testament, Jesus, whose own life is ever more in danger, likewise exposes the lie that any of us has a right to judge another. His story adds something the Daniel story is missing. No one dies. Life is too precious. In both cases, we can imagine a different and bloody outcome.

Who needs our advocacy? What laws do we need to rewrite to protect victims of sexual violence? Who are the invisible women around us? God is for women and their survival. Are we?

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