Wednesday of the First Week of Lent 2011


Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.

Today’s responsorial psalm deserves a homily. King David is supposed to be the author of all the psalms and this one especially has the sound of his voice. It was written, as the second verse tells us parenthetically, “…when Nathan the prophet came to him after his affair with Bathsheba.”
 David may be the first true penitent in history. Certainly, this psalm describes the mysterious heart of penance. Abraham was the father of faith and the Book of Genesis recounts some of his failings. Moses too, as great as he was, also had certain shortcomings. These two with David are the great triumvirate of the Old Testament. All three represent the nation; but David also appears as a historical person, a very fallible human being whose penchant for violence and weakness for women are all too obvious. We see nothing of such failings in Abraham and Moses.  
David’s genius is his passionate love of God. He needs to be reminded of that love, as we all do; and God provides a reminder in the person of Nathan. David remembers that he was the least of his household, a mere boy when Samuel anointed him to be the next king. There was certainly nothing about the boy’s appearance, education, wealth or family to indicate he should be the king.
He knows enough of warfare to appreciate God’s protection and guidance. His surviving so many skirmishes and battles was not by accident or good luck. God was with him as his “buckler and shield.” And he knows that kings usually don’t die of old age surrounded by their friends; he still needs God’s constant protection from assassination.
He also remembers King Saul’s fate, madness. David is as good a soldier as Saul, and an equally competent leader. He is haunted by the specter of Saul’s insane jealousy. When Saul lost God’s favor he lost his mind, and so David prayed, Do not drive me from your presence, nor take from me your holy spirit.”
David will finally be honored with a most amazing promise. God will maintain his house, that is his kingdom, forever. Can the living appreciate how long forever is? Many of our contemporaries think time will end very soon. Perhaps David and his people thought the same thing. Three thousand years have passed, and how many kingdoms, nations, and empires have fallen? And yet the kingdom of David lives in the person of Jesus. Why? Not because he was innocent but because he owned his sins.
Jesus will follow in his Father David’s steps as he also takes up the cross of penance. Although he did no sin and was utterly without guilt, he stands with David his father and all his people in their sins.
Christians also, as children of David and disciples of Jesus, readily confess our sins and thank God for the gift of penance. 

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