[Homily. ADDU Assumption Chapel, Monday, April 8, 2019.]
The Story of Susanna in the first reading from the Book of Daniel complements the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8:1-11, which was read in all our Sunday Masses yesterday. The story of how Jesus saves this woman from death by stoning would have been read today, but since it was read yesterday, our Gospel reading (Jn 8:12-20) is the nine verses immediately following this story. Here, Jesus proclaims himself as the light of the world.
Susanna is a beautiful lady, daughter of pious parents who brought her up to observe the Law of Moses. She is married to Joakim, who is wealthy. In their house they have a garden where, in an enclosed area, she would bathe. Knowing her custom, two old men, lust after her. They surprise her while she is bathing alone and demand that she sleep with them, or face death. She chooses not to sin, and screams for help. When people of the household come, the two men say she had been sleeping with a young man, who’d overpowered them when they’d arrived. Because they are elderly and judges of the people, they are believed. Susanna is shrouded in the darkness of their lie, and she is condemned to death by stoning. But with wisdom and cunning, Daniel comes and proves the witnesses false. Interviewing them separately, he proves they are lying. Daniel’s sense of justice and courage restore Susanna to the light of her innocence and dignity.
Unlike Susanna, who was innocent, the woman in the 8th chapter of John is really caught in the darkness of sin; she is really guilty of adultery. According to the Law of Moses, such an adulteress is to be stoned to death. She is brought to Jesus. He is asked what is to be done with her. You know the story: Jesus, who is the light, begins writing on the ground. What he brought to light in what he wrote, no one knows, except perhaps those who actually saw what he wrote. Jesus said, “Let those who are without sin cast the first stone.” Those who had been calling for the death of the woman by stoning left, beginning with the eldest. The woman was a sinner. But Jesus, the light, dispelled the darkness. She had sinned. But the light of his Father’s compassion prevailed.
In our Gospel today Jesus proclaims, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). The woman who had been caught in sin, would not be condemned by Jesus, but restored to the light. “Neither will I condemn you,” he said, “Go and sin no more” (Jn 8:12). “I do not judge anyone” (Jn 8:15), he says in today’s Gospel. “I am with the Father who sent me” (Jn 8:16), – I am one with the saving, forgiving will of the Father, God. I am the Word of God as from the beginning God here in flesh before you (cf. Jn 1: 14). I am God (cf. Jn 1: 1). For making this astounding claim of divinity in clear light, the forces of darkness are outraged and conspire to kill him. But Jesus’ time for death had not yet come. Today, we can recall his words in his conversation with Nicodemus in John, chapter 3:
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved” (Jn 3: 17). As the woman caught in adultery was not condemned, but saved.
“He or she who believes in him is not condemned,” Jesus says. “But he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten son of God” (Jn 3: 18). The Pharisees did not believe, and in their disbelief they are condemned.
“And this is the condemnation,” Jesus tells Nicodemus. “The light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (Jn 3: 19). Clinging to their religious power, manipulating access to God to keep them in power, blinded in their own hypocrisy, the Pharisees loved darkness rather than light; their deeds were evil.
“For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed,” Jesus tells Nicodemus. “But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done by God” (Jn 3: 21).
When we walk in the valley of darkness, when darkness conceals the dangers around us, when we grope in darkness blinded by sin loving the evil things that we do, when we are lost in a pitch black cave of hypocrisy and have no way out, Jesus approaches us compassionately today to say, “I am the light of the world!”