This week we had the Story of Susanna and the Elders in scripture readings. A story which has many angles still relevant today. A person’s chastity and beauty become not revered or admired for what they are, but turned to into a commodity; where she is offered the options of disgracing herself by giving herself to these two lechers or being condemned by their lies.
She chooses truth, even though she knows there is no way out, at least that she can see. How often we feel the same, where truth is the least convenient path, usually the one which only seems to lead to short term pain and suffering.
However, Susanna takes the high road and is saved. When we consider this Old Testament scripture we see this as a life or death decision. Susanna is faced with the decision to either agree to something she considers worst than death, or accept death by holding fast to her faith.
Even today, we are preoccupied with the concept of beauty. However, when we consider the word we often relate it to physical beauty, and in particular the beauty of women. This is a two-edged sword, on the one hand, we have the delight and wonder of how what God-given beauty is, to be seen and admired. On the other hand, there are those who want to possess this beauty. To hold, own and control it for their own pleasure.
Some see this even in their prayer life. Constantly asking Him for the things that we need. I like to view beauty in the same way Fr. Thomas Keating would describe our desire to possess God in our prayer life. Keating’s response is “God is like the air we breadth, we can have as much as we want unless we try and possess it.” So it should go with beauty. We can admire all the beauty in the world, but not try and own it. Usually, that beauty is not ours to hold in the first place.
While Daniel’s scripture of the two elders and Susanna illustrates the negative power of lust, deceit, and control, it also demonstrates the need for respect and honor for beauty. Those who are born with great physical beauty often find themselves being cautious of this gift. As others are often trying to make themselves closer to it, or worse. We see this today in the Me Too movement. Harassment seemed, for a while there, to be the norm, even accepted in some societal situations. Without any controls, values and love being practiced towards others we have a recipe for disaster. The Church has crossed these lines itself with the sexual scandals of recent years.
So today, the story of the two Elders and Susanna is one where we know if we do the right thing, God will intercede. And, by giving in to the pressures of others, allowing harassment, bullying and the search for a fleeting control of the beauty of others, we can only bring ourselves to spiritual death.
Where the beauty of God in our lives disappears over the horizon, to be replaced by the shadows of guilt. A beauty we never want to pass from us.
Painting by Franz Xavier Winterhalter