"Even though I walk through the valley of darkness"
In today's readings there are many who walk through the valley of darkness. Some are very comfortable there in the darkness. Others are comforted by the presence of the Good Shepherd. Sooner or later everyone walks through this valley. Those who walk by faith know that the Lord is at their side; they do not fear. Not only are they fearless, they want for nothing. Indeed the valley of darkness is not endless; eventually the LORD guides them to restful waters that refresh the soul. Just hearing those bubbling brooks and feeling those splashing waters flowing over the stones brings refreshment to the heart. This refreshment is completed only in the taste of living waters; all thirst is quenched. It is for his name's sake that the LORD guides and directs us all along the way for his we are his people and the sheep of his pastures. We are strengthen by his power to save us; his rod and staff give us courage to continue the arduous journey all the way to Calvary. All through Lent he has spread the table of his body and blood before us in the sight of our foes. With all who hate us looking on he anoints our heads with oil, the oil of gladness above other kings. Our cup of suffering overflows and so does our cup of rejoicing. Only goodness and kindness follow us all the days of our lives. Indeed, only in the house of the LORD are we at rest, at home forever. Our ancestor, Susanna, was trapped under a tree by her accusers. Their lies were exposed because of that same tree. It was because of the mercy of Christ, who died upon the tree of the Cross, that the woman caught in adultery was set free to go and sin no more.
Susanna was not afraid of death or lies and "through tears she looked up to heaven, for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly." Such trust had grown in her heart over the years of her virtuous living. The fruit of a life of wickedness comes to term in the false accusations of the judges. These lusty old men represent the crowds gathered around the Lord Jesus in today's gospel account. They had become blinded by the lust in their hearts. They could not see Susanna's true beauty. All they could see was their desire imposed upon her body. The fulfillment of their lust drove them to assume that Susanna would fall victim to their trap. Consumed by such desire we so easily assume that those we want, want us. This self-deception made them victims of their own lies. After years of living a lie, they were easily tripped up by their lies about the tree under which they had caught Susanna. The Holy Spirit moved Daniel to have the courage to establish Susanna's innocence. It is the same Holy Spirit who works in all of us who follow the New Daniel, the Lord Jesus Christ. We can never stand by and watch one of God’s beloved children die because of a lie. We who have come to know the Lord Jesus, who is the way the truth and the life, have no fear as we confront the lies that abound in our hearts and in our communities. The innocent ones in our world have no need to fear because we stand up for them and defend them with the truth that the Holy Spirit inspires us to know and to proclaim. Indeed, innocent blood is spared in our day because of the Innocent Lamb of God who shed his blood so that we might be cleansed, purified, made new.
Susanna was innocent; the woman caught in adultery was not innocent. Both women are treated with great mercy. The Lord Jesus is the New Daniel upon whom the Holy Spirit rests from all eternity. From the eternal moment in which the Son was begotten, the Holy Spirit hovered over him. During his conception within the womb of the Immaculate Theotokos the Holy Spirit overshadowed her and rested upon him. This same Holy Spirit moves within the Lord Jesus and over him as he writes on the ground with his finger. Perhaps he is pausing in prayer to hear the voice of his Father, so that he would speak the word that forgives and challenges at the same time. He is that Word, spoken from all eternity and made flesh within the womb of the Blessed Mother, so that he can speak in time. Unlike the first Daniel, who had only the power and wisdom to expose the innocence of the woman falsely accused of adultery, the Lord Jesus has the power to forgive the sins of the woman caught in adultery. Perhaps such a word needs a seemingly distracted pause, so that it can be proclaimed. "Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." Again the Lord Jesus writes on the ground; perhaps this pause is for our sake. Perhaps, we who have heard this story so many times need to pay close attention. Perhaps we are both the crowd and the woman. In these words of the Incarnate Word, we are liberated from sin and from the impossible role of throwing the first stone. The only innocence that we can claim is that which comes from the blood of the Innocent Lamb who was slain by our guilt. Perhaps, now as if for the first time, we can go now and sin no more.