Our readings from scripture, this morning, contain two tales of women caught up in the justice system after being accused of wrongdoing by powerful men.
The stories of Susanna in the garden and the woman caught in adultery may once have seemed to be just two more morality plays highlighting the wisdom of the men who come to the aid of women in distress. But in these days of the “Me Too” movement and after the Canadian inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, these anecdotes deserve to be read with a modern sensitivity to the violence and injustice that women have faced and still face in the world today.
Imagine yourself in the place of these women, victims in a strange game. Humiliated by the crimes of which they have been accused and finding themselves before Kangaroo courts. The circumstances make them aware that they are nothing in the eyes of these men who have arrested them. Their life, their humanity is seen to hold no value.
In our time we can reflect on the “Highway of Tears”, highlighted by the inquiry. Along this lonely stretch of road in northern British Columbia, dozens of women, many of them Indigenous, have been found murdered or gone missing over recent years. Their assailants were never brought to justice. Just one example, close to home, of how poverty, racism and violence is visited disproportionately upon woman in our own society.
Reflected in this light, the story of the woman caught in adultery takes on more than one meaning. While it can certainly be interpreted as a story of forgiveness and mercy, it also needs to be seen as an example of a miscarriage of justice. In this sense, while the role of Jesus is about offering compassion to a frightened and vulnerable woman it is also about restoring the balance of justice of which she has been deprived.
Both Susanna, and the woman from the Gospel do go away forgiven for the crimes of which they have been accused, but we miss the point if we think that this puts and end to the story. Like the elder men in the garden and like the scribes and Pharisees who brought the woman before Jesus the finger of accusation now turns towards us, to those who would maintain or benefit from a system that continues to deprive women of the justice and protection that they deserve.
It’s a weighty charge, but one which we must face if we take the call of the Gospel seriously. In the words of Pope Francis reflecting on the readings for today,
“The Lord does justice for the innocent woman, forgives the sinner, condemns the corrupt ones, helps the hypocrites convert themselves. Each of us has our own story, our own sins. Let us look at the Lord who does justice, but who is also extremely merciful.”
May the Lord give us strength and wisdom to uphold justice, to protect the vulnerable and to be merciful as we have received mercy.