Repentance, in my opinion, is something we do not hear enough of. In sacred scripture we read of the great heroes of faith constantly turning away from sin and toward the Lord. The same can be said about the lives of the great saints we celebrate throughout history. Why is it that we hear so little of repentance? Perhaps it depends on the parish and setting, but how often do we hear of the love of God and His mercy?
Don’t get me wrong. These attributes of God should be proclaimed all day every day. However, Jesus started His public ministry by telling those listening to repent (Matthew 4:17). To repent is to be contrite about the things we have done wrong and to turn from sin to a life of grace. There are many places in scripture that go into depth about this, but none quite like Psalm 51.
The Story Behind the Psalm
To set the stage for this great psalm, a little backstory is needed. This is a psalm of David composed at a time when he had just been caught in an outright scandal. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, who was the wife of a general in David’s army. Bathsheba became pregnant from the encounter, and David devised a plan that he must have thought was ingenious. Basically, he would tell Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, to go home and have relations with his wife. But knowing that battle was near, Uriah opted to stay with his men. The plan had backfired, and the prospect that the king would be caught in this adulterous affair was not an option. David then sent Uriah to the front line knowing that he would be killed in action.
The adultery was treacherous enough, but now David – the man after God’s own heart –had committed murder. Nathan the prophet confronted him about the deeds, and it led to one of the most emotionally charged psalms ever written. One can feel the emotion, pain, and heartbreak jump off the page. I remember singing a version of this psalm in camp as a young evangelical, and the words ring true today.
Highlights of the Psalm
It is not the intention to recite the whole psalm, but to show it as a template of turning from sin to the grace of Christ. David admits his sins (which are not named in the psalm) but anyone can read 2 Samuel 11-12 to learn more. He knows what he did wrong, admits it to God, and pleads with God to wash him clean. In verse five he declares that he deserves whatever punishment that God thinks is just.
The theme of the psalm gets more intense as David pleads with God to look upon his crushed spirit and look away from the sins he has committed. David admits that offerings will do nothing to please God, but only a contrite heart. David’s broken heart is the sacrifice that he offers to God.
It Is Also Our Story
The story of King David is one that should be familiar to all of us, not only because it is in scripture, but because it is one that we have lived. We may not sin like David, but we have all committed some heinous sins. Often, we commit a sin, attempt to rationalize it, but end up falling deeper into sin. The heartbreak that David shows in this psalm is not only one of penance, but of warning. Though sin may feel good for a time, in the end it leads to heartbreak and despair.
It is this heartbreak and despair that should lead to lines at the confessional. Many who have never been to confession, or have not been in several years, may feel apprehensive about going. Some are even afraid that they have committed a sin so horrible that it would be impossible for God to ever forgive them. That is a lie straight from the pit of Hell!
The Need for Self-Examination
Look at the life of David. As previously stated, David committed adultery and had the husband of his mistress murdered. Do you think your sin is greater than that? God forgave David and promised that through his lineage would come one who would change everything. In Matthew’s Gospel we read the genealogy of Christ, which includes David (Matthew 1:6). The Prophet Isaiah (11:1) states that the Messiah will arise from the tree of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David.
We have all messed up and have fallen short of the standard God has for us (Romans 3:23). We can make one of two choices in this situation: we can lie to ourselves, say that we have everything under control, and go deeper and deeper into sin; or we can learn from the example of David. We can see what we have done for what it is. We have sinned against a holy God, ourselves, and most likely others.
Words for the Weary
It is my hope and prayer that everyone will choose the second option, which is clearly the better choice. Sin costs us relationships, health in some cases, and ultimately our souls. Repentance leads to forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and reconciliation. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is amazing, and in my opinion, not utilized enough. Christ has given us this most special gift through his Church so we can hear those precious words: “I absolve you”. Those are words that our weary souls need to hear.
What is keeping you from confession? Please be honest with yourself. I understand that not every parish has confession at the most convenient times, but there is no rule that says you can’t go to another parish for the sacrament. Are you afraid it will cost you something? Quite the contrary– the grace of God is a free gift. It will cost you something if you do not go.
Take advantage of the sacraments and participate in them as often as you can. They give us grace to proceed toward the ultimate goal of Heaven. Jesus wants us in Heaven with Him, and for that reason He gave us the sacraments to get us there. I urge you to prayerfully read Psalm 51 and then reflect on your life. Is there something you are hiding from yourself or others? David thought the same thing but learned that he could not hide from God. God knows our hearts and everything we have ever done. Please do not try to fool Him! Go to confession. Let Christ take away your sins. Repent and follow Him all the days of your life.