Readings: Daniel 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62; Psalm 23; John 8:12-20
It is a fair attempt at ensuring due process and a fair trial, to insist, as the law of Moses did, on the testimony of two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15-21). It was an effort an ensuring that there could not be miscarriages of justice. Of course conspiracies to frame people and have them unjustly tried were always possible as long as people were prepared to get together to bear false witness. It was one of the major commandments of the law, and is one of the essential structures of any just society, that people not bear false witness but speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
We know from experience that no system of justice is perfect and that no combination of human beings involved in adminstering a system of justice will do so perfectly. It is one of the strongest arguments against capital punishment: no matter how good the system of justice might be, it is always administered by human beings and therefore liable to distortion and corruption. In the case of capital punishment there is no going back.
In the final days of Lent we are presented with figures who are unjustly treated even when the system of justice is being followed correctly. Susanna is one such figure and we hear about her in today's long but dramatic first reading. From the early days of the Church she has been a 'type of Christ', foreshadowing in her experience what was to happen to Jesus later on. It requires divine intervention, working through Daniel, to illuminate the truth of the situation. Here the testimony of two corrupt witnesses will be enough to condemn Susanna unless the Lord intervenes to ensure that a higher justice - the justice of truth rather than simply that of evidence - triumphs in her case.
In the final days of Jesus' life there is much focus on the justice of the trial he received. It was easy for the authorities who wanted to destroy him to find someone in his circle to betray him and it was easy for them to find others to testify against him. When false witnesses arise and speak against him they report his words but fail to see the true meaning of those words. 'He said he would destroy the Temple and raise it in three days'. 'He is telling us not to pay tribute to Caesar and that he himself is a king.' They are confused, Mark's gospel tells us, and understandably so since Jesus is trying to lead people beyond their normal categories of thought, expectation and understanding.
Who are to be the witnesses that will vindicate Him? In the passages from John's gospel which we read these days there is much about this question. We see the kind of non-judgmental judge Jesus is - yesterday's gospel reading about the woman taken in adultery is simply the most powerful moment in that revelation. But what of Jesus himself? Who will bear witness to Him? Who can vindicate the justice of His cause? Who will confirm the truth of His teaching?
It can only be the Father, says Jesus, He is the one who vindicates me, who bears witness to me, who confirms the truth of what I am saying. The Father knows where I come from and where I am going, Jesus says, because it is He who sent me. So the requirement of the Law, that there be the testimony of two witnesses, is fulfilled: the Father and Jesus can bear witness to who he is, to his origin and to his mission. But we might well sympathise with the confusion of the witnesses, even with disciples struggling to understand, if the logic of Jesus's argument in today's gospel reading is not immediately clear.
We need more light if we are to have any hope of understanding what Jesus is saying here. We believe that light has been given in the events we celebrate in the coming days. For the moment at least this much is clear: Jesus moves forward on the strength of his relationship with the Father. If everything else falls away, as eventually everything else will fall away, this will stand. He is sure of the Father's presence and certain too that, when the hour comes, the Father will bear witness to the Son in ways that only the creating power of God can as yet imagine.