“You’re the man!”
According to the Urban Dictionary, that’s a cool way of saying “you rock!” You’re comparing the person to someone everyone knows is awesome, like Jesus (or Allah, or Buddah, or even Chuck Norris, according to that source!)
Somehow I don’t think that’s what the prophet Nathan meant in 2 Samuel 12 when he called out King David for his sin.
Do you remember what happened? David wanted Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. He took her – slept with her – found out she was pregnant and sent her husband to his death. He doesn’t seem to feel a bit guilty. But then Nathan comes with news of a rich man who needed to feed a guest. Instead of taking a sheep from his own herds, he feasted on the one precious lamb belonging to his poor neighbor. David is appalled. He blurts out, “that man deserves to die!” To which Nathan replies, “You are the man!”
Arghhhh – the knife goes in!
David’s the king. He could have made excuses, or dismissed Nathan, or even asked, in all innocence, “what are you talking about?” But no – listen to this. We have his reply in Psalm 51 (part of which is paired with the story of David in tomorrow’s readings):
A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba:
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight,
So that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment.
David recognizes his sin. He stares it in the face and he throws himself into the arms of the judge.
How can he do that? He knows what he deserves. But he also knows that God who judges, loves him. “According to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions,” he says. He goes on:
“Wash me thoroughly … cleanse me … purge me … fill me with joy.”
“Create in me a clean heart, … deliver me from guilt.”
“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.”
David knows the pain that sin can cause. He knows what it does to our insides and to our relationship with God. And he knows that there’s a solution. Psalm 51 shows us what to do when we sin.
There’s more than one kind of sin
We don’t have to commit adultery or have someone killed to relate. Psalm 51 mentions four kinds of sin:
- The sin in which we are conceived. This is “original sin;” the weakness we all have since the Fall. Because of this, we are inclined to choose ourselves over God and evil over good.
- “Sin” (Heb. chatta’ah) — The root word is a term from archery that means to “miss the mark” or “fall short of the target.” All of us do that, when we aim our desires somewhere other than God.
- “Iniquity” (from Heb. avon) — from a word meaning to “twist.” Some sin takes what is good and twists or warps it, uses it for selfish or wrong purposes.
- “Transgression” (Heb. pesha) — This refers to sins of rebellion: deliberate actions against God and others.
Together, these words cover a whole range of sin. And all sin, however big or small—whether it misses the mark, perverts the good or is done in outright rebellion—leaves a mark that disfigures and hurts us and turns us away from God and his blessing. David knows all that – but he also doesn’t see God as a harsh judge looking to punish every misstep. He knows that God is able and ready to wash away those marks, to give us new hearts and fill us with joy.
There’s a lot more we could learn from Psalm 51, and from the six other so-called “Penitential Psalms,” if we were to study them. But first and foremost, the Psalms are meant to be prayed. And because they are words prayed by people to God, at the same time as they are words of God, they are uniquely suited to teach us how to pray. And this is best done by actually praying them.
Come Into the Word with me this Lent
I’d like to invite you to come into the Word with me this Lent and pray with Psalm 51 and the other Penitential Psalms, one psalm a week for seven weeks. As a Lenten practice, praying these psalms goes back centuries. In fact, Pope Innocent III (d. 1216) required Christians to pray the Penitential Psalms during Lent.
I know, it sounds dismal. Spend a lot of time with them, though, and you may change your opinion. I’ve been praying the Penitential Psalms during Lent for a while now. Every year, they speak to me in a new way. If you do this for 40 days, consciously make an effort to sit with them, making King David’s prayers your own, —come Easter, things will be different.
You will be different.
Are you in?
Here are three ways to get started:
Download free guidelines for praying with the Penitential Psalms. They include instructions for praying them for intentions related to the seven capital (“deadly”) sins: How to Pray the Penitential Psalms – download
Order my Lenten Lectio Journal, Create in Me a Clean Heart: Ten Minutes a Day in the Penitential Psalms, to help you. It uses a lectio-divina based process to guide prayerful meditation on one of these psalms a week.
Whichever you use, share your thoughts and questions with others who are doing the same. Find me on facebook (go to “Sarah Christmyer – author”), click on “Groups” in the left column and ask to join the discussion group on the Penitential Psalms.
And may God richly bless you as you spend more time in his word!
© 2018 Sarah Christmyer