Readings and Reflections

 

 

Readings and Reflection for the 5th Week of Lent
Monday 30th March

First reading

Daniel 13:1-9,15-17,19-30,33-62 

 

Susannah and the elders
In Babylon there lived a man named Joakim. He had married Susanna daughter of Hilkiah, a woman of great beauty; and she was God-fearing, because her parents were worthy people and had instructed their daughter in the Law of Moses. Joakim was a very rich man, and had a garden attached to his house; the Jews would often visit him since he was held in greater respect than any other man. Two elderly men had been selected from the people that year to act as judges. Of such the Lord said, ‘Wickedness has come to Babylon through the elders and judges posing as guides to the people.’ These men were often at Joakim’s house, and all who were engaged in litigation used to come to them. At midday, when everyone had gone, Susanna used to take a walk in her husband’s garden. The two elders, who used to watch her every day as she came in to take her walk, gradually began to desire her. They threw reason aside, making no effort to turn their eyes to heaven, and forgetting its demands of virtue. So they waited for a favourable moment; and one day Susanna came as usual, accompanied only by two young maidservants. The day was hot and she wanted to bathe in the garden. There was no one about except the two elders, spying on her from their hiding place. She said to the servants, ‘Bring me some oil and balsam and shut the garden door while I bathe.’
  Hardly were the servants gone than the two elders were there after her. ‘Look,’ they said ‘the garden door is shut, no one can see us. We want to have you, so give in and let us! Refuse, and we will both give evidence that a young man was with you and that was why you sent your maids away.’ Susanna sighed. ‘I am trapped,’ she said ‘whatever I do. If I agree, that means my death; if I resist, I cannot get away from you. But I prefer to fall innocent into your power than to sin in the eyes of the Lord.’ Then she cried out as loud as she could. The two elders began shouting too, putting the blame on her, and one of them ran to open the garden door. The household, hearing the shouting in the garden, rushed out by the side entrance to see what was happening; once the elders had told their story the servants were thoroughly taken aback, since nothing of this sort had ever been said of Susanna.
  Next day a meeting was held at the house of her husband Joakim. The two elders arrived, in their vindictiveness determined to have her put to death. They addressed the company: ‘Summon Susanna daughter of Hilkiah and wife of Joakim.’ She was sent for, and came accompanied by her parents, her children and all her relations. All her own people were weeping, and so were all the others who saw her. The two elders stood up, with all the people round them, and laid their hands on the woman’s head. Tearfully she turned her eyes to heaven, her heart confident in God. The elders then spoke. ‘While we were walking by ourselves in the garden, this woman arrived with two servants. She shut the garden door and then dismissed the servants. A young man who had been hiding went over to her and they lay down together. From the end of the garden where we were, we saw this crime taking place and hurried towards them. Though we saw them together we were unable to catch the man: he was too strong for us; he opened the door and took to his heels. We did, however, catch this woman and ask her who the young man was. She refused to tell us. That is our evidence.’
  Since they were elders of the people, and judges, the assembly took their word: Susanna was condemned to death. She cried out as loud as she could, ‘Eternal God, you know all secrets and everything before it happens; you know that they have given false evidence against me. And now have I to die, innocent as I am of everything their malice has invented against me?’
  The Lord heard her cry and, as she was being led away to die, he roused the holy spirit residing in a young boy named Daniel who began to shout, ‘I am innocent of this woman’s death!’ At which all the people turned to him and asked, ‘What do you mean by these words?’ Standing in the middle of the crowd he replied, ‘Are you so stupid, sons of Israel, as to condemn a daughter of Israel unheard, and without troubling to find out the truth? Go back to the scene of the trial: these men have given false evidence against her.’
  All the people hurried back, and the elders said to Daniel, ‘Come and sit with us and tell us what you mean, since God has given you the gifts that elders have.’ Daniel said, ‘Keep the men well apart from each other for I want to question them.’ When the men had been separated, Daniel had one of them brought to him. ‘You have grown old in wickedness,’ he said ‘and now the sins of your earlier days have overtaken you, you with your unjust judgements, your condemnation of the innocent, your acquittal of guilty men, when the Lord has said, “You must not put the innocent and the just to death.” Now then, since you saw her so clearly, tell me what tree you saw them lying under?’ He replied, ‘Under a mastic tree.’ Daniel said, ‘True enough! Your lie recoils on your own head: the angel of God has already received your sentence from him and will slash you in half.’ He dismissed the man, ordered the other to be brought and said to him, ‘Spawn of Canaan, not of Judah, beauty has seduced you, lust has led your heart astray! This is how you have been behaving with the daughters of Israel and they were too frightened to resist; but here is a daughter of Judah who could not stomach your wickedness! Now then, tell me what tree you surprised them under?’ He replied, ‘Under a holm oak.’ Daniel said, ‘True enough! Your lie recoils on your own head: the angel of God is waiting, with a sword to drive home and split you, and destroy the pair of you.’
  Then the whole assembly shouted, blessing God, the saviour of those who trust in him. And they turned on the two elders whom Daniel had convicted of false evidence out of their own mouths. As prescribed in the Law of Moses, they sentenced them to the same punishment as they had intended to inflict on their neighbour. They put them to death; the life of an innocent woman was spared that day.

 

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 22(23) 

If I should walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear.

The Lord is my shepherd;
                    there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
                    where he gives me repose.
Near restful waters he leads me,
                    to revive my drooping spirit.

If I should walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear.

He guides me along the right path;
                    he is true to his name.
If I should walk in the valley of darkness
                    no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
                    with these you give me comfort.

If I should walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear.

You have prepared a banquet for me
                    in the sight of my foes.
My head you have anointed with oil;
                    my cup is overflowing.

If I should walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear.

Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
                    all the days of my life.
In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell
                    for ever and ever.

If I should walk in the valley of darkness, no evil would I fear.

 

Gospel Acclamation

2Co6:2

Glory to you, O Christ, you are the Word of God!
Now is the favourable time:
this is the day of salvation.
Glory to you, O Christ, you are the Word of God!

 

Gospel

John 8:1-11 

'Let the one among you who has not sinned be the first to throw a stone'
Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At daybreak he appeared in the Temple again; and as all the people came to him, he sat down and began to teach them.
  The scribes and Pharisees brought a woman along who had been caught committing adultery; and making her stand there in full view of everybody, they said to Jesus, ‘Master, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Moses has ordered us in the Law to condemn women like this to death by stoning. What have you to say?’ They asked him this as a test, looking for something to use against him. But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger. As they persisted with their question, he looked up and said, ‘If there is one of you who has not sinned, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then he bent down and wrote on the ground again. When they heard this, they went away one by one, beginning with the eldest, until Jesus was left alone with the woman, who remained standing there. He looked up and said, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir’ she replied. ‘Neither do I condemn you,’ said Jesus ‘go away, and do not sin anymore.’

 

Fr Tim’s Reflection

Today, the Monday of the 5th week of Lent, is often called “Susannah Monday” as we have the reading from the book of Daniel about the falsely accused Susannah.   It shows that even during the Babylonian exile, some of the Jewish community did quite well for themselves.  Joakim, her husband, had a fine house with a secluded garden and his residence became a meeting place of the community in exile.

Both readings show the best and the worst in human nature.   The two elders wanted to have their wicked way with this defenceless girl, but she was saved by Daniel who was inspired by the Holy Spirit to get to the bottom of the matter.   She was innocent, so it would have been unjust if she were to be punished.

The story in the Gospel of John also involves a woman accused of adultery, only this time she is clearly guilty of the offence.   She too is saved from punishment by the intervention of Jesus who writes on the ground.   Jesus is not interested in punishment as in change.    Perhaps the angry crowd with stones in their hands are more interested in vengeance rather than justice.   As no one dares to throw the first stone at her, she is told to go home but not to sin any more.

Jesus would like to effect a similar change in our lives.   Being at home gives us more time for prayer and reflection.   This can sometimes lead us to worry about past injustices we have suffered or past sins we have committed.   We can expose such thoughts to be illuminated by today’s scripture.   Let’s hear the words of Jesus addressed to us: “Go and sin no more”.

 

 

 

Readings and Reflection for the 5th Week of Lent
Tuesday 31st March

 

First reading

Numbers 21:4-9 

If anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked up at the bronze serpent and lived
The Israelites left Mount Hor by the road to the Sea of Suph, to skirt the land of Edom. On the way the people lost patience. They spoke against God and against Moses, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is neither bread nor water here; we are sick of this unsatisfying food.’
  At this God sent fiery serpents among the people; their bite brought death to many in Israel. The people came and said to Moses, ‘We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you. Intercede for us with the Lord to save us from these serpents.’ Moses interceded for the people, and the Lord answered him, ‘Make a fiery serpent and put it on a standard. If anyone is bitten and looks at it, he shall live.’ So Moses fashioned a bronze serpent which he put on a standard, and if anyone was bitten by a serpent, he looked at the bronze serpent and lived.

 

Responsorial Psalm

Psalm 101(102):2-3,16-21 

O Lord, listen to my prayer and let my cry for help reach you.

O Lord, listen to my prayer
                    and let my cry for help reach you.
Do not hide your face from me
                    in the day of my distress.
Turn your ear towards me
                    and answer me quickly when I call.

O Lord, listen to my prayer and let my cry for help reach you.
The nations shall fear the name of the Lord
                    and all the earth’s kings your glory,
when the Lord shall build up Zion again
                    and appear in all his glory.
Then he will turn to the prayers of the helpless;
                    he will not despise their prayers.

O Lord, listen to my prayer and let my cry for help reach you.
Let this be written for ages to come
                    that a people yet unborn may praise the Lord;
for the Lord leaned down from his sanctuary on high.
                    He looked down from heaven to the earth
that he might hear the groans of the prisoners
                    and free those condemned to die.

O Lord, listen to my prayer and let my cry for help reach you.

 

Gospel Acclamation

Jn8:12

Praise to you, O Christ, king of eternal glory!
I am the light of the world, says the Lord;
whoever follows me will have the light of life.
Praise to you, O Christ, king of eternal glory!

 

Gospel

John 8:21-30 

When you have lifted up the Son of Man then you will know that I am He
Jesus said to the Pharisees:
‘I am going away;
you will look for me
and you will die in your sin.
Where I am going, you cannot come.’
The Jews said to one another, ‘Will he kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, “Where I am going, you cannot come”?’ Jesus went on:
‘You are from below; I am from above.
You are of this world; I am not of this world.
I have told you already:
You will die in your sins.
Yes, if you do not believe that I am He,
you will die in your sins.’
So they said to him, ‘Who are you?’ Jesus answered:
‘What I have told you from the outset.
About you I have much to say
and much to condemn;
but the one who sent me is truthful,
and what I have learnt from him
I declare to the world.’
They failed to understand that he was talking to them about the Father. So Jesus said:
‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man,
then you will know that I am He
and that I do nothing of myself:
what the Father has taught me is what I preach;
he who sent me is with me,
and has not left me to myself,
for I always do what pleases him.’
As he was saying this, many came to believe in him.

Fr Tim’s Reflection

 

The first reading recalls an incident that happened in the wilderness as the people of Israel were making their way to the promised Land.   Fiery Serpents were attacking the people and their bite was proving fatal.   Moses was instructed to erect a bronze serpent on a pole, and anyone bitten who looked at the serpent lived.   The bronze serpent has now become a symbol for the medical profession and today’s reading is a timely reminder for us to pray for all those working on the frontline of the NHS trying to save lives.   Many are putting the health of themselves and their families at risk in carrying out this work.   They need and deserve our prayers and support.

The reading is connected to the Gospel, where Jesus says: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, you will know that I am he”.   It is not the bronze fiery serpent that is lifted up to save us, but Jesus himself will be lifted up to save us from our sins.    In fact, Jesus was “lifted up” three times:   He was lifted up on the cross, he was lifted up from the tomb in the resurrection and he was lifted up into heaven at the ascension.

St Francis of Assisi had a great devotion where he prayed before a crucifix – having a conversation with the dying Lord.   As we prepare to celebrate Holy Week, each one of us in our own homes, we can spend some time in silent respect before the cross of Christ.   St Ignatius prompts us to ask three questions in this form of prayer:  “What have I done for Christ?” “What am I doing for Christ?” “What will I do for Christ?”   We can use those questions and see what answers spring to mind.