“When the old men saw her enter every day for her walk, they began to lust for her. They suppressed their consciences; they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven and did not keep in mind just judgments.”
The Bible is a timeless piece of literature inspired by the Holy Spirit. I am sure you have had a moment where one particular reading struck you as very applicable to our modern times. We find this verse in the long version of the reading from Daniel today and it could not speak more clearly to our lost modern society. The two elders in this story are lusting after Susanna, a lust as commonplace as our daily interactions with other people in today's society. Daniel beautifully highlights the truth of such lust in his words: ‘...they would not allow their eyes to look to heaven...’
The reality of the lust that our world has so deeply entrenched itself in is not that people are exposed to too much, it is that they settle for too little. If the elder men in this story were not lusting after Susanna and had the pure eyes to see the glory of God's creation in front of them, the beauty they found in Susanna would have turned their eyes from creation up to the Creator. Remember, to the pure all things are pure. That is God’s purpose in creation, and it was no mistake. Our very bodies were made so that we would be able to turn our gaze from this earth and look up to Our Father in heaven and give him praise for his unending goodness to us. In his Theology of the Body John Paul II talks on this and its appropriate context in marriage.
In Matthew’s Gospel we receive a strict command on such lust from Jesus himself. He says: ‘...But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell...’ (Mt 5:28-29). This teaching is given in a stern, matter of fact way. This is right after we hear the Beatitudes from Jesus in some of his greatest teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. We know that God is merciful and loving. We are about to celebrate the most merciful, loving act in the history of mankind at Easter. He is also a just God, and in this story the two elder men receive the just punishment from God they brought upon themselves.
In the case of Susanna and the woman in today's Gospel from John we are given such great encouragement as we journey closer towards Calvary with Christ. We humans are so weak, we are helpless without the love of God. Susanna sets an example for us in her great faith. ‘Yet it is better for me to fall into your power without guilt than to sin before the Lord...Through tears she looked up to heaven, for she trusted in the Lord wholeheartedly.’ I also imagine that in the account from today's Gospel Jesus saw in the adulterous woman that her gaze had turned up to heaven seeking the mercy of God even in the midst of her sin. Remember how the elders is the story from Daniel today would not look up to heaven in their earthly lusts. We need only follow these women's examples to seek the good favor of God. In our weakness and failings if we turn our eyes to God he will deliver us. St. Therese of Lisieux knew this full well: ‘...the fire of love is more sanctifying than that of Purgatory.’ So to turn our hearts to God in full confidence, trust, and love, especially in our moments of trial, is to find favor in the eyes of God.
As we draw closer to the end of this blessed season of Lent, I encourage you to learn from these holy women of today's readings. Cast off the lies of this world and look to heaven. Throw yourself with a child-like love and trust into the saving arms of Christ on the cross. Whether it is through actually receiving the forgiveness of God through the great Sacrament of Reconciliation or just a deeper conversion that needs to take place in your heart, drink deeply from the rich graces present to you. Just as Susanna and the adulterous woman experienced, it is at our lowest point when God reached down to them in mercy. We need only turn our eyes to him in heaven and beg for his love in confidence. Let us finish our Lenten journey to Christ’s saving cross in this humble trust.