Monday, 14 March 2016

How to search conscience

One of the additions to the book of Daniel featuring in the deutero-canonical writings of the Apocrypha is the story of Susanna, falsely accused of adultery by two men whose evil advances she refuses. She is saved from condemnation to death under the Mosaic Law by the insistence of the young Daniel on the interrogation of the men separately. 

They condemn themselves by the inconsistency of their lies, although it is clear that without Daniel's intervention, she would have been executed without a hearing on the untested evidence of two men alone. Normally in that setting, the testimony of women was disregarded, and that of men alone to be relied upon. Daniel reveals the unjust and foolish nature of custom and practise, but in spite of this, such a travesty of inequality under the law can still be found in our times.

Susanna, accused and automatically condemned cries out loud to God about the false accusation, and God arouses Daniel to act and speak out with authority on her behalf. Even though he is young, his reputation for wisdom commands the attention of the crowd and leads to Susanna's acquittal.

In the Gospel story about the woman taken in adultery from John 8:1-11 (or after Luke 21:38), it is not a matter of proving her innocence, but rather how she is rescued from certain death under the same Law of Moses. To those who have put her on trial, those who have presumed the power of life and death over her, Jesus says: 

"Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.

And nobody can. 

He has invited them to search their consciences, and they admit to themselves that they too sin and break God's law. None of them would want to be punished for whatever their consciences accuse them of. Their honesty spares a life. Jesus will not condemn her either. 

"From now on, do not sin again.

is all he will say.

When we're honest with God about the state of our consciences, God doesn't condemn us. These words of Jesus apply also to us, whatever we've done or failed to to. If we think of sin as causing suffering to anyone, including ourselves, it is easier to search our hearts honestly than it is to trawl through the catalogue of religious and moral rules to identify a breach. The greatest moral evil is not to care at all about the impact of our actions on others.

'Happy is the one whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! Happy is the one to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, in whose spirit there is no deceit!'  (Psalm 32:1)

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