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Monday of the Fifth Week of Lent: Innocence or Injustice?

Monday, April 07, 2014
Readings: Daniel 13; Psalm 23; John 8:1-11

It is better to suffer injustice than commit it. This saying of Socrates in Plato's Gorgias expresses a profound wisdom in the Greek philosophical tradition. But the abstract idea is brought to life and more vividly communicated in Scripture. The story of Job's innocent suffering and perseverance under undeserved duress is the classic account. And today's first reading captures the same essential truth. In the tale of Susanna, after several twists and turns, the moral of the story is that innocence will ultimately triumph.

When the two evil old judges lust after Susanna and conspire to convict her by their perjury, she realises she is 'completely trapped'. Her only two options are horrifying in different ways: she may either preserve her innocence and purity but suffer an unjust death, or save her skin by caving in to their wicked desires. Susanna is helpless in the public court – her testimony alone as a woman counts for nothing, especially against the high social position of the crooked judges – but she has truth and innocence on her side:

"it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt
than to sin before the Lord."

This sounds a lot like Socrates' saying, but it actually goes much further. Indeed, the Greek philosophical position may be un-persuasive for many people. As Polus argued against Socrates, many people commit injustice and get away with it in this life. Surely they are happier people than those innocents who suffer at their hands? The Jewish story, by contrast, refers everything to divine justice. It is the Lord Himself who will vindicate Susanna, stirring up his spirit in the boy Daniel to reveal her innocence to the community. Whether the innocent will be vindicated immediately or in the next life, God will not fail them.

The Christian vision goes further still. When Jesus is presented with the woman caught in adultery, he is faced with a guilty person – unlike Susanna, this woman deserves to receive her punishment under the Law of Moses. But divine justice, made present to her in the very person of Jesus, is a merciful justice. Mercy is the acknowledgment of the truth and the unfolding of that truth in love. To receive mercy, the sinful woman must acknowledge the truth of her sin ('go now and sin no more', she will be told), just as her accusers slink away in shame of their own sinfulness. And then that truth must be unfolded in love: the woman is loved by Jesus, loved by God, despite her sins. That truth and love give her freedom.

This is the same glorious freedom offered to us, if only we acknowledge our own sinfulness, to receive God's merciful love. Ironically, that merciful love has been given through the horrific suffering of a perfectly innocent person – Jesus Christ on the Cross – but this is in order to show that even the worst injustice will never have the last word. In the end, innocence triumphs.

Matthew Jarvis OP


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