In the swirl of their shouting crowds, today’s readings exemplify the need for integrity to resist the mob. And the mob is calling for blood.
One way to view these stories is to see in them an exemplar of integrity: an image of a single person standing resolute in opposition to the braying populace, unbowed, a spine of steel. But in these two narratives about a lone woman faced with a mob, a more complex narrative emerges. Justice is rendered not by fiat but by insightful social leveraging. These stories are the product of a complex cultural lineage, certainly told many times before. The authors could have chosen to sharpen things up, to make a point more clearly, to clean up the edges.
Yet they didn’t. Daniel steps forward, and engages skillfully with the judges. Jesus imposes a moment of reflection, and turns the issue back to the crowd. Each account charts the rushing river of a complex social movement—its headlong stampede fueled by righteous indignation—as it suddenly changes course. One new element shifts the whole frame.
The call of integrity can reasonably lead us to ignore the crowd, delete the app, and turn toward who we really are, the core of our being. There is value to this. But the layers of Scripture push back at any sense that virtue emerges only from isolation, as if our “true self ” is an individual untouched by commerce with others.
“Reading the room” is not customarily cited as an element of virtue. In these stories, however, it is decisive, suggesting a wider horizon for the divine judgment than we may have imagined, as God tenderly “reads the room” of our hearts.