Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saturday of the Third Week in Lent

Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62 / John 8:1-11

Why is it so hard for many simply to condemn the iniquity of the abuse of women? Why is it that, when some highlight how it is that women are the subject of their husbands', or their partners', or even their clients' abuse and cruelty, the Church, not merely in her ministers but even more so in the laity, is so awkward in denouncing the fact as a grace injustice and a moral evil? It is as though we want to decry how the abuse of women is horrendous and yet we feel compelled to add, "Of course it is, but yet ..." That is, we feel inclined to assert that not only are women the victim of spousal abuse, or that "while it is true that the abuse of women is an unspeakable crime, yet we ought not to conclude ..." and then add some addendum we fear will be forgotten or overlooked if we should, without hesitation, condemn the abuse of women tout court.

In the Gospel, Jesus does not determine the moral "worthiness" of the woman caught in adultery before defending her from the wrath of the crowd. Indeed, as we hear from her accusers, she is indeed guilty of adultery. All the same, Jesus' challenge remains: He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. This challenge is not premised at all upon parsing out the moral state of the woman, who, as we learn, is in fact guilty of the crime of which she has been accused. Rather, altogether apart from the question of her guilt, Jesus puts before her accusers, those who would make her die the terrible death of stoning, the altogether righteous but impossible standard, namely, that to lay a hand upon her, to do this woman a single bit of harm, calls for absolute purity on the part of the executioner of judgment. The prophet Daniel, while convinced rightly of the innocence of Susanna, is less bothered of proving her innocence as he is of ferreting out the judges' guilt. Their fault is found not in defending the honor of Susanna, but in showing that the judges are themselves false, themselves deserving of death.

In the Church, we must name the cruelty and violence we face, the daily violence faced by women, Christian women, women married sacramentally in holy Mother Church. The problem is so clear, so unavoidable, that one wonders why we do not hear more about it. Why is it that women feel themselves better served by turning to lesbian activists in state-sponsored crisis clinics than they do from their own pastors, much less their sisters in the faith? Why is it that the Church must explain and defend her stance on behalf of women, rather than having the same be so obvious as to be in no need of explanation or defense?

The woman caught in adultery received, without her even asking it, the unconditional pardon from the Lord: Hath no man condemned thee, woman? No man, Lord. Neither will I condemn thee. Are we prepared to defend women as fiercely, as courageously, and as generously? Are we prepared, without any question as to moral guilt, to stand up on behalf of those women who have been abused by the men to whom they have, wisely or not, entrusted their lives, and to drive away those who would condemn them for their sins? Can we yet speak with Jesus, and finally understand his words, having made them our own: Neither will I condemn thee?

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