Monday, March 22, 2010

I AM The Light Of The World.

Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Reading I
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.
The last two chapters of the Book of Daniel are not part of the Jewish canon of Scripture. The short stories in these two chapters may have originally been about some other Daniel or Daniels different from the hero of the main part of the book. The texts exist now only in Greek, but probably were first composed in Hebrew or Aramaic. They do not appear in non-Catholic bibles either. However, the Catholic Church has always included them among the inspired writings.

They contain two famous stories, one of Susanna, who was falsely accused of adultery, and the other of the events which led to Daniel being thrown into the lions’ den.

A certain prudery has often led to the Susanna story being dropped or substituted by a more innocuous text. (Or worse, being dropped because of its length by those celebrants who think that that the only good liturgy is a short one!) But, as Cardinal Newman once said, we cannot have a sinless literature and that applies very much to the Bible. It is only in the context of our sinful weakness that we can fully appreciate the greatness and the compassion of our God.

The story itself needs little explanation. It is about two lecherous men and an innocent married woman who is led into a clever trap from which there seems no escape. However, the woman defends her integrity at the risk of being falsely accused of being unfaithful to her husband in a society that was even less forgiving in these matters than our own. In fact, the whole community, after hearing the evidence from the two men, was ready to stone her for her adultery and indicated this by laying their hands on the woman’s head.

She would certainly have been executed by stoning if the “young boy Daniel” had not come on the scene. The rest of the story is a description of his integrity, his sense of justice and insight. Through his clever and separate examination of the woman’s accusers he proves them liars and the sharp contrast between the two trees mentioned – one being quite small and the other tall and majestic – only made clearer the inconsistency of the two men’s evidence. They end up receiving the punishment originally intended for the woman.

Really, the focus of this long and dramatic story is on Daniel and on his perception and wisdom and as a champion of justice.

But, in two of the three years of the Sunday cycle, the story of Daniel and Susanna is paired with the gospel of the woman in adultery which was read yesterday, a situation where the woman is clearly guilty and yet wins Jesus’ total forgiveness.

Reading both these stories,  we might reflect on how much we enjoy reading explicit and titillating media accounts of sexual wrongdoing and, with the media, sit smugly in judgment on people who are being rubbished. We read avidly of the doings of ‘sexual monsters’ on page 1 and then go and drool over page 3 and see no inconsistency in so doing.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
Psalm 23
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
In verdant pastures he gives me repose;
Beside restful waters he leads me;
he refreshes my soul.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side.
He guides me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side
With your rod and your staff
that give me courage.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side.
You spread the table before me
in the sight of my foes;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side.
Only goodness and kindness follow me
all the days of my life;
And I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
for years to come.
Even though I walk in the dark valley
I fear no evil; for you are at my side.
+++    +++    +++    +++   
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.
“I AM the Light of the world.” This is one of the seven “I AM” statements which Jesus makes in the course of John’s gospel.* When Jesus uses the term ‘I AM’ it is not just a version of the verb ‘to be’. It echoes the name that God gave when Moses at the burning bush asked the voice he was hearing to identify itself. The Hebrew is variously translated as “I AM who I AM.” Later philosophers and theologians will see in this statement God identifying himself as pure existence and the source of all that exists. Jesus also lays claim to use this term also and does so seven times in John’s gospel. It also appears in other contexts as when Jesus identifies himself as the Messiah to the Samaritan woman (John 4).

In the Prologue to John’s gospel the author also says:
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life
and this life was the light of the human race. (John 1:3-5)

We are to walk in that light, and, in a reflected way, that is, insofar as we reflect Jesus in ourselves, we too are to be the light of the world. After delivering the Beatitudes, Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth… you are the light of the world (cf. Matt 5:13-14). We are to be the moon to Jesus’ sun.

But Jesus’ self-testimony is challenged by some Pharisees because they say there are no other witnesses to his words. Jesus counters by saying that he knows what he is talking about while his hearers know nothing of his real origins. As far as they are concerned he is a carpenter’s son from Nazareth. They are looking at him from a merely human point of view and, contrary to what they see, Jesus is not alone. There is a witness to back him up, namely, his own Father.

Speaking from their human perspective, they ask where his Father is. Jesus tells them that they neither know him (that is, his real identity) nor do they know the Father. If they really knew Jesus, they would know the Father as well because, for those who know, Jesus is the mirror of his Father. “Who sees me sees the Father,” Jesus will tell Philip at the Last Supper.

It is therefore very important for us to know Jesus intimately for through him we go to God and in him we begin to understand something about the nature of God. We do that principally in two ways: by steeping ourselves in the Scriptures and by prayer. If we have not been very good at doing either of these things, Lent is an excellent time to start. It may already be the fifth week, but, where getting closer to God is concerned, it is never too late.
*The seven statements are:
I AM the Bread of Life (6:34,48)
I AM the Light of the World (8:12)
I AM the Gate (10:7)
I AM the Good Shepherd (10:11)
I AM the Resurrection and the Life (11:25)
I AM the Way, the Truth and the Life (14:6)
I AM the true Vine (15:1)


Sarah in the tent said...

The decalogue also starts with 'I am': 'I am the LORD your God'. In Hebrew, would that read as: 'I am I am who am your God'?

All the Law flows from this 'I am' and Jesus embodies the Law.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

The Hebrew, transliterated in English letters, reads ANKI IEUE ALEIK. It is translated into English as I AM YAHWEH YOUR GOD, if the divine name is not translated (the Jewish custom). But if it were translated word for word, including the divine name, it would indeed read: I AM "I AM WHO AM" YOUR GOD.