Posts Tagged 'Psalm 51:1-13'

For Aug. 5, 2012: Proper 13, Year B

The Reading            2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

In last week’s reading, King David got another man’s wife pregnant, because he could, and then attempted to cover his tracks by arranging for that man to die in battle. There is no such thing as private sin, however. In today’s reading the prophet Nathan, acting for God, tricks David into pronouncing judgment on himself. The penitential Psalm 51 that follows is David’s heartfelt response.

 

Response            Psalm 51:1-13

 

The Epistle            Ephesians 4:1-16

Psalm 51 is David’s reaction to Nathan’s affirmation of his guilt—and our own, as we survey the devastation our behavior causes. The fourth chapter of Ephesians teaches us how to live so as not to do such damage: by bearing with one another in love, by speaking truth in love, and by building up the Body of Christ in love.

 

The Gospel            John 6:24-35

 

Further thoughts

The books of Samuel paint a highly mixed portrait of David. On the one hand, it is David who connives and cheats, who keeps wanting more and who is not above manipulating his friends and fighting for their enemies to get it, whose appetite for power and its perquisites grows the more he gets, and who has the valiant Uriah disposed of, perhaps at least as much because Uriah’s self-control contrasts so tellingly with David’s self-indulgence (and one always wonders how much real choice Bathsheba ever had in all of this). On the other hand, it is David who follows God and God’s gifts to greatness, who dances unselfconsciously before the Ark of the Covenant, who repeatedly protects Saul even when Saul keeps trying to kill him, whose yearning for God pervades the psalms that he really does seem to have composed, and who—when Nathan finally gets his attention—genuinely and contritely accepts that he has offended not just the humans around him but the God whose man he is.

How can one reconcile those two Davids?

One reconciles them, because one must, the same way each of us must reconcile the warring selves within all of us. Earlier chapters of the letter to the Ephesians make it clear that I also am God’s creature, born with the yearning to make good with my gifts—and so is everyone else; bitter experience tells me that I am just as capable as David of abusing my gifts stupidly or even wickedly, sometimes even out of good intentions—and so is everyone else.

Today’s epistle reminds me that all God’s children are born this way, with gifts that surely need to be channeled but that it is a sin against the Spirit to deny. The foundational gift, as today’s epistle notes, is love, by which I understand the ability to see others not through the lens of my own wants and hurts but through the eyes of the God who died for the sake of even the worst of us.

For March 25, 2012: 5 Lent, Year B

The Reading            Jeremiah 31:31-34

The “weeping prophet” Jeremiah foretold the destruction of Jerusalem in the sixth century BC on account of God’s people being unfaithful. Amid the ruins, today’s reading announces hope and a new covenant: God will write God’s law on the people’s hearts, so that we do not forget God—and God will forget our sin.

The Epistle            Hebrews 5:5-10

The epistle to the Hebrews, written no later than 96 AD, is less a letter than it is a treatise of Christology—the study of Jesus—in terms of Jewish thought. The writer compares the priesthood of Jesus to that of Melchizedek, who blessed Abram in Genesis 14. Both priesthoods are without beginning or end, but Jesus’ priesthood is superior: he is fully human, fully God, and fully obedient to God.

Further thoughts

The approach of the end of Lent always brings to mind one of my favorite poems of the late 20th century, Peter Meinke’s “Liquid Paper”. The opening lines liken correcting fluid—Liquid Paper™ or Wite-Out™—to a parson that pardons sins, then to a memory-blotter. The poem continues, “If I were God, / I’d authorize Celestial Liquid Paper / every seven years to whiten our mistakes:”

we should be sorry and live with what we’ve done
but seven years is long enough and all of us

deserve a visit now and then
to the house where we were born
before everything got written so far wrong.

Similar imagery of God forgetting his people’s sins or blotting them out appears in the readings from Jeremiah and Psalm 51. The point in both readings, as in Meinke’s poem, is surely not that our sins stop existing or that we get out of doing anything about them. In fact, the old 1928 Book of Common Prayer identifies with clinical precision our problem with what it calls “these our misdoings”:

The remembrance of them is grievous unto us;
The burden of them is intolerable.

It is remarkable how little misdoing is required to convince a human being that There Is No Help for her and she has no business admitting in decent company how much help she needs—or, for that matter, even presuming to appear in decent company. One can try to shed that burden on her own, but most of us fail utterly.

Jesus, being human, knows the weight of that burden. It is that intolerable burden that each of us bears, multiplied by all the souls on this beautiful and yet blased planet, that hangs with him and on him on the cross.  Our part now is to keep using the means of grace—the bread and wine, the fellowship, the admitting of our sin—and to extend them to each other by all means possible.


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