30 March, 2020

It would not be out of place at this point to recall the relationship between justice and mercy. These are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love… Justice is also understood as that which is rightly due to each individual.

~ Pope Francis ~

Daniel 13:1-9,15-17,19-30,33-62; Psalm 23; John 8:1-11

In the story today of Susanna, the deep callousness of the two men who set out to rape or kill is made evident. Either she must surrender herself to their sexual desire, or they will orchestrate her death. Society will basically help them to kill her, because under Jewish law her body did not belong to her, herself, but to her husband.

 

With both Susanna, who is innocent of any wrongdoing, and then later in the Gospel story of the woman who is to be stoned for adultery, we see the intervention of God with justice and mercy. In Susanna’s story, mercy and justice are intermingled.

 

The story of the adulteress is far less clear-cut. Here we have this strange intervention of Jesus who asks what is happening, who challenges the men, “Let one who is without sin cast the first stone.”

 

The intervention of God in both these stories is an intervention that restores lost dignity. God is acting in a way that is simultaneously merciful and just. Susanna’s life is saved and her innocence is shown to all the community. The woman taken in adultery is liberated from those who want to kill her. Her innate dignity is reaffirmed by Jesus who forgives and frees her. He says to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.”

 

Jesus lived in the Middle East 2000 years ago. His society was profoundly patriarchal and women did not have equal standing, or indeed, a voice before the law. Yet, in this Gospel story, we see Jesus affirming her basic dignity. His countercultural recognition of her as a full person and not “just” a woman is profound.

 

The challenge for all of us is to reassess our own cultural prejudices. How do I think about women, even if I am one myself? How do I treat the women closest to me – my mother, my sisters, my daughters, my aunts and my cousins? How do I work with women colleagues, with friends and with the stranger I meet? Do I see them as Jesus saw women?

 

Lord,

 

I ask for the grace of healing from any deep-seated attitudes of prejudice towards women that I may have inherited from my own family and culture.

 

Help me truly to see all other people as persons created in love and dignity by you.

 

Amen.

 

Catholic Parliamentary

Liaison Office

Jesuit Institute
South Africa

This reflection has been adapted from Have Mercy, O Lord! Daily Reflections for Lent by Grant Tungay SJ, Russell Pollitt SJ, Annemarie Paulin-Campbell, Puleng Matsaneng, Anthony Egan SJ and Frances Correia, & published by the Jesuit Institute South Africa in 2016.

Reflection prepared by

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ

Fr Matthew Charlesworth SJ entered the Society of Jesus in 2005 and underwent the usual course of studies in his formation, which took him to such varied places as Canada, France, Ireland, Kenya, Spain, Tanzania, the United Kingdom, the United States, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. Matthew manages the background technical aspects of much of the Institute's work and is involved in the Spirituality work whilst completing the Advanced Spiritual Directors Training Course and Spiritual Exercises Training run by the Institute. He is a member of Spiritual Directors International and is also a part-time lecturer in Sacred Scripture at St Augustine College of South Africa.

m.charlesworth@jesuitinstitute.org.za @mcharlesworth
See more from Matthew Charlesworth SJ

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