Writing Psalm 51
Prophet Amos 5:10–15
Gospel Luke 23:26–31
The introduction to Psalm 51 says that David wrote it after the prophet Nathan confronted him with the truth of his affair with Bathsheba and its aftermath, and certainly the texts belong together.
This is such a multi-faceted story: the dehumanizing by David of first Bathsheba (turning her into a plaything) and then Uriah (turning him into an obstacle to be removed) presents an important aspect of sin. David’s fanatical desire to cover his tracks at any cost is another angle. The contrast between Uriah’s loyalty to his comrades and David’s lack thereof is another. Finally, David’s righteous indignation at the parable Nathan tells him (not actually in these readings, but referred to in the Psalm) is yet another piece.
Reading Psalm 51 in the context of its story and setting places verse 5 in its appropriate context and diffuses it as a proof–text for the concept of original sin. The expression “I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me” (NRSV) is not a systematic declaration but the rhetorical claim of someone who is pleading for mercy. “Hear me out, God. I cannot help it. I was born this way. Give me another chance.” Have not each of us, in times of angst or despair, cried out in similar rhetoric? This is hardly a profound theological pronouncement, but simply a real and momentary thought.
The gospel text, taken from Luke’s passion narrative, includes Jesus’ lament for Jerusalem. The passage from Amos describes desperate and dismal times, but contains a glimmer of hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel. There is dawn after the darkest of nights. There is an empty tomb beyond the cross. Yet for now we confront the truths of the nighttime.
copyright © 2006, 2009 Donald Schmidt “Taken from Emerging Word: a Creational Spirituality Lectionary by Donald Schmidt. Copies are available from him.”