The story of Susanna (Dn 13) is the story of a woman unjustly accused of adultery by two lustful old men. In the Gospel, Jesus encounters a woman actually caught in adultery (Jn 8: 1-11).
Daniel comes to Susanna’s rescue just as she is about to be executed as a result of false testimony. Wanting to go deeper into these two stories, I looked up The Woman Caught in Adultery in Volume II of the Gospel of Solentiname, Ernesto Cardenal’s community in Nicaragua. Commenting on John’s Gospel, these people nail it. They speak about how people often use the law to oppress others. These people experienced this oppression first hand under the American-backed oppressive regime of Somoza.
Law can set us free but law can also bind us. Jesus came to set us free from oppression under the law. His law is the law of love written on our very hearts. His law is that we are not to judge others. Tell that to the wicked judges and the scribes and the Pharisees!
Tell that to those who today, like in Daniel’s time and Jesus’ time, spent their religious lives condemning others. Unfortunately, our church leaders today spend their time judging, condemning, and, whenever they feel like it, excommunicating. One bishop went so far as to announce in the local secular press that anyone who had attended the recent ordination of a woman priest was excommunicated.
Montaldo, cites Merton’s Seasons of Celebration in his book Lent and Easter: Wisdom from Thomas Merton: “We must not let our evaluations of a man’s acts to stand in the way of the Holy Spirit, who draws us to unity with the ‘other’ in spite of his actions which make him different from ourselves, perhaps opposed to us.” (At 72) In other word, we are not to judge. We are not use laws and requirements get in the way of the Holy Spirit. Pope John XXIII had the foresight and courage to let loose the Holy Spirit when he convened Vatican II. Subsequent popes have been trying to stuff the Holy Spirit back into the bottle. What futility! Once people have tasted the freedom granted them as son and daughters of the Most High, they will not be caged up again by feudal princes.
The Psalmist urges us to put out complete trust in God even though we, at times, walk through the valley of darkness and death. The campesinos of Solentiname understood this. Ernesto Cardenal founded this island community after he was ordained. Prior to his ordination in Nicaragua, he was a novice under Merton at Gethsemani. The people of Solentiname lived under oppression. At one point, Somoza’s National Guard destroyed their center and Ernesto had to flee the country. He later returned and, under the Sandinista regime, he served as minister of culture. For this he was chided by a finger-pointing Pope John Paul II on the tarmac at the Managua’s Sandino Airport. For all his fine talk about social justice, the Pope had a real blind spot when it came to Liberation Theology. Perhaps, it was the result of his experience with Communism in Poland. (Liberation Theology is NOT Communism.) By the way, I had a really tough time with all the adulation for Ronald Reagan on the 100 th anniversary of his birth.
Under Reagan’s watch, America supported a corrupt government and many Nicaraguans were killed and wounded in a bloody civil war.
What do Nicaraguan “revolutionaries “seeking better and more just, less oppressed lives for themselves and their loved ones have to do with the Gospel of Jesus? Everything! They were oppressed by the law just as Susanna and the Woman Caught in Adultery were oppressed by the law. Jesus came to liberate captives and to set free the oppressed. This means nothing if it is not applied to concrete, real world situations where there is exploitation and oppression. By loving the enemies that oppress, we set ourselves free and we also set them free.
We should not miss the gender issues in both accounts. Adultery was, and still is in many modern cultures, a greater sin for women than for men.
Jesus was about to be caught in a trap. If he agreed, the woman would be stoned. If he disagreed, they would accuse him of breaking the Mosaic Law. He chose the third way. The people of Solentiname remind us that we too must find the third way between violence and nonviolence. Martin Luther King warned us, “The choice is not violence or nonviolence. It is nonviolence or nonexistence.” Love is the third way of Jesus—“Judge not lest you be judged.” When Jesus started writing whatever he wrote on the ground, the accusers understood this and quickly slid away. The next time a church official condemns you, find a sand box and start writing!
Father Carl Arico teaches us that we must also forgive ourselves. Like the woman caught in adultery, we live in shame and guilt. Shame is a pervasive sense of being worthless. Guilt arises from our sins of omission and commission. In order to overcome shame and guilt, we must forgive those who have shamed and hurt us.
We must also forgive ourselves. Jesus forgave the woman. This empowered her to forgive herself. The guilt and shame of our darkness is obliterated by the laser light of God’s love streaming into the abyss of our emptiness and nothingness.