If you walk into the American church in Rome, Santa Susanna, you will see two stories depicted on the wall. One is, of course, the story of the martyr for whom the church in named. The other is the subject of our first reading from the Book of Daniel.
The Susanna in the first reading is the story of a woman who is almost stoned to death because of the groundless accusation of two lecherous old men whom she rejects. Only when Daniel raises the issue of proof, separates the so-called witnesses, and the details of their story do not match is her life spared. Back then all it took was an accusation and in the minds of the crowd she must be guilty.
If you want to see a modern version, watch the film The Stoning of Soraya M. But before we critic the world beyond our borders we need only to look at ourselves. We used to be a nation that believed that a person was innocent until proven guilty. Now from the time they are accused, we behave as if they are guilty. We may not stone them, but their lives are ruined. Actual proof of wrong-doing is no longer required. And thanks to the Internet, it lives on forever.
Our new pope has not even been officially installed and there are already those who are trying to find something of which he can be accused or for which he can be blamed. Some reports go back to the 70s and would make it look like as a Jesuit superior he had control over every priest in Argentina. It is all accusation, but for many that seems to be enough.
Even more tragically are those who had no Daniel, those who have been wrongfully convicted and put to death not just in third world countries but right here in the USA. The Innocence Project is dedicated to stopping this injustice. The first reading today reminds us that this kind of injustice is nothing new, but that doesn't mean that we should simply sit back and accept it. We must do what we can to end it.
It is no accident that this reading follows yesterday's gospel of the woman caught in adultery. In that case she was guilty, she had sinned, but even then Jesus's response was;
Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.
On this the 10th day before the end of Lent, are we really ready to be that Christian?