Susanna the Just

Just a heads up if you’re not going to Mass regularly this Lent, one of the best Old Testament stories is coming up in the Lectionary on Monday. Rembrandt von Rijn depicts his usual characters in the spotlight, except the elders are in the dark.

Artemisia Gentileschi’s depiction also picks up on the invasion of sexual abuse: the elders in attacking a woman at bath, one’s presumptive touch of her hair and the other whispering to keep it all a delicious secret.

Daniel offers the best legal defense in the Bible in dealing with these two:

After they were separated one from the other, he called one of them and said: “How you have grown evil with age! Now have your past sins come to term: passing unjust sentences, condemning the innocent, and freeing the guilty, although the Lord says,’ The innocent and the just you shall not put to death. Now, then, if you were a witness, tell me under what tree you saw them together.”

“Under a mastic tree,” he answered.

“Your fine lie has cost you your head,” said Daniel; “for the angel of God shall receive the sentence from him and split you in two.”

Putting him to one side, he ordered the other one to be brought. “Offspring of Canaan, not of Judah,” Daniel said to him, “beauty has seduced you, lust has subverted your conscience. This is how you acted with the daughters of Israel, and in their fear they yielded to you; but a daughter of Judah did not tolerate your wickedness. Now, then, tell me under what tree you surprised them together.”

“Under an oak,” he said.

“Your fine lie has cost you also your head,” said Daniel; “for the angel of God waits with a sword to cut you in two so as to make an end of you both.”

The whole assembly cried aloud, blessing God who saves those that hope in him.

Getting back to the Dutch Master, I’m struck with Susanna’s appeal to the viewer. She’s looking at us, isn’t she?

Victims of unjust authority, especially Church authority, also look to us, especially those who follow the sorry news of badly behaving bishops and their partners of abuse in the presbyterate. Those who assembled the Lectionary obviously thought that the defense of the innocent was a priority of the season. I would hope the lesson we glean from Daniel 13 isn’t just to appeal to God in hope when we are in need of salvation. We are like Daniel, of course, and charged with the defense of the innocent, even when it goes against the mob.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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