By Tom Quiner
David’s life spiraled out of control.
The King of Israel violated the Ninth Commandment by coveting his neighbor’s wife.
This led to his violation of the Sixth Commandment when he acted on his unholy impulses and had an illicit encounter with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, whom he impregnated.
Compounding the drama, David violated the Fifth Commandment when he had his lover’s husband killed to cover up his transgression.
What a mess: Lust. Adultery. Murder.
When the prophet Nathan held the King accountable for his unholy trinity of sin, David confessed that he had “sinned against the Lord.”
For seven days, he fasted, laying prostrate on the ground.
Psalm 51 expresses David’s gut-wrenching confession; his plea for God to save him from death; and his pledge to lead sinners back to God.
This is a hopeful psalm, for God forgives the contrite heart. It is a beautiful expression of our desire to ‘get right with God.’ That is why it was sung at our Ash Wednesday service tonight. It is the perfect prayer to launch the Lenten season. An alternate response, “Create in me a clean heart, O God” is also used in Lent.
As Pope John Paul II reminds us,
“God can “blot out, wash and cleanse” the sin confessed with a contrite heart. The Lord says, through the voice of Isaiah, even if “your sins are scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool”.
Psalm 51 is a psalm worth contemplating. Embrace its meaning. Savor the heartfelt contrition expressed by David.
Not only does he atone for his sins, he vows to God to be an evangelist to others so they, too, might draw closer to their Lord.
Sinners are the best evangelizers. The more egregious the sin, the more the sinner recognizes the power of God’s mercy. Let this psalm transform your Lenten experience. Ask someone who’s fallen away from church to come back.
Psalm 51 resonates even more when we think of it in light of Genesis 1:27:
“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
We’re special. He’s not talking about animals or plants, he’s talking about man, into whom he breathed life out of dust, according to Genesis 3:18:
“in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
And yet he knew us before we were even born, according to Jeremiah 1:5:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
We’re special. Our lives are gifts from God. And in Psalm 51, the psalmist gives us the words to get right with God when our lives get off track, just as David’s did. So when our bodies return to dust and we’re right with God, we’ll spend eternity with the One who made us.
This is a prayer worth repeating these next 40 days.
May your Lenten journey draw you closer to God.