Lent 5, Thursday, Year B

Inspired by Psalm 51:1-12 

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.” Psalm 51:3-4 (NRSV) 

The tradition behind this psalm is intriguing. The notation at the beginning of the psalm reads, “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” King David had seduced Bathsheba and then, upon learning of the pregnancy that resulted from the encounter, plotted to have her soldier-husband Uriah put where the fighting was heaviest, where he would most certainly be killed. After all had happened according to David’s plan, God confronted him through the prophet Nathan and accused him. This psalm is David’s response to that accusation.

This confession by David can strike fear in one’s heart, because of its raw acknowledgement of guilt and acceptance of the inevitability of judgment by God. David knows he’s sinned, knows exactly how he’s sinned, is constantly aware of that sin, and recognizes that he has done evil in the sight of the Lord. It’s not a question of if he’ll be punished for his transgression, but when and how.

Yet he identifies his sin as being directly against God—not against Bathsheba or Uriah. It’s not that they don’t matter, or that the suffering they endured at David’s hands is unimportant. Rather, a sin against another person is a sin against God. God takes personally any sin we commit against any of his children, and he will ensure justice, because that is his nature.

Even the guilty can take comfort in that fact. David is the accused, and he knows his guilt. Yet throughout this psalm his strongest request is that God will not withdraw himself from David. He prays to be cleansed from his sin and delivered from his own unrighteousness. He depends, along with Bathsheba and Uriah, on God’s mercy and steadfast love.

Let us pray. God of justice, you identify with all of your people. Help us to acknowledge our sin, that we may earnestly pray to you for a clean heart and for your Holy Spirit to guide us in our ways. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.