Saturday, January 30, 2010

Create A Clean Heart In Me, O God.

Saturday of the Third Week in Ordinary Time

Reading 1
2 Samuel 12:1-7a, 10-17
The LORD sent Nathan to David, and when he came to him,
Nathan said: “Judge this case for me!
In a certain town there were two men,
one rich, the other poor.
The rich man had flocks and herds in great numbers.
But the poor man had nothing at all
except one little ewe lamb that he had bought.
He nourished her, and she grew up
with him and his children.
She shared the little food he had
and drank from his cup and slept in his bosom.
She was like a daughter to him.
Now, the rich man received a visitor,
but he would not take from his own flocks and herds
to prepare a meal for the wayfarer who had come to him.
Instead he took the poor man’s ewe lamb
and made a meal of it for his visitor.”
David grew very angry with that man and said to him:
“As the LORD lives,
the man who has done this merits death!
He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold
because he has done this and has had no pity.”
Then Nathan said to David: “You are the man!
Thus says the LORD God of Israel:
‘The sword shall never depart from your house,
because you have despised me
and have taken the wife of Uriah to be your wife.’
Thus says the LORD:
‘I will bring evil upon you out of your own house.
I will take your wives while you live to see it,
and will give them to your neighbor.
He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight.
You have done this deed in secret,
but I will bring it about in the presence of all Israel,
and with the sun looking down.’”

Then David said to Nathan,
“I have sinned against the LORD.”
Nathan answered David:
“The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin:
you shall not die. But since you have utterly
spurned the LORD by this deed,
the child born to you must surely die.”
Then Nathan returned to his house.

The LORD struck the child
that the wife of Uriah had borne to David,
and it became desperately ill.
David besought God for the child.
He kept a fast, retiring for the night
to lie on the ground clothed in sackcloth.
The elders of his house stood beside him
urging him to rise from the ground; but he would not,
nor would he take food with them.

If David thought he could get away with the terrible crimes he committed, he was deeply mistaken.

Hardly had Bathsheba given birth to the boy when David is confronted by the prophet Nathan. “The Lord sent Nathan to David.” Prophets are people who bring messages from God. We met Nathan before when David complained to him about his discomfort of living in a house of cedar while the Ark of the Covenant was still in a tent (2 Sam 7:2). Here the prophet comes to proclaim God’s judgment against the king he had set over his own people.

The message is uttered through one of the most striking parables to be found in the Old Testament.

Nathan tells David about a rich man, the owner of large herds, who takes for his own table not one of his own many sheep but the single ewe lamb of a poor peasant in order to entertain a visitor. Not only was this the only sheep the farmer owned but "she was like a daughter to him" and shared the little food that he had.

On hearing the story, David was filled with indignation and declared that the rich man deserved to be executed. "He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold because he has done this and has had no pity." Repaying four times was a requirement of the Law (cf. Exodus 22:1). It reminds us of what the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, said to Jesus after their encounter: “If I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times as much” (Luke 19:8)

Nathan then quietly says to David: “You are the man!” Nothing more need be said. What David had done was, in fact, many times worse than taking a lamb from a poor man. He had stolen a man’s wife and then cold-bloodedly had him killed.

Nathan then goes on (not part of our reading) to list some of the things that David had received from the Lord, including the wives and harem of his predecessor, Saul. “I gave you your lord’s house and your lord’s wives for your own.” In spite of being surrounded by so many women, he goes and steals another man’s wife and then has Uriah killed by the Ammonites, the enemy they were fighting. But it was really David who had killed Uriah; he was no tragic victim of battle.

Speaking in God’s name Nathan spells out David’s punishment: violence and death will come to his own family: three of his sons, Amnon, Absalom and Adonijah will all die violent deaths. “I will bring evil on you out of your own house. I will take your wives while you live to see it and will give them to your neighbor. He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight.” All this took place during the rebellion of David’s son Absalom, when David was forced to flee his palace but left behind ten concubines. David’s wives would be taken just as he had taken the wife of Uriah.

Finally, what David thought he had done in secret becomes public knowledge.
In a spirit of deep remorse and repentance, David totally acknowledges his sin. His feelings are beautifully expressed in Psalm 51, part of which forms today’s Responsorial Psalm.

My offenses truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.

But Nathan tells David that his sin is forgiven. He will not die for it (as the law demanded) but he will lose the child of his adultery. The boy fell sick and David was devastated, refusing to eat and sleeping on the ground wearing sackcloth, the sign of repentance. Despite the urging of his courtiers he refused to get up from the ground nor would he eat. He was heartbroken not just because of the death of his son but because of the circumstances in which the child had been born in the first place. This was the price of his sin.

It is not our sins which condemn us in God’s eyes but our refusal to repent and change our ways. Once we genuinely express our sorrow and show it by a "conversion", God’s mercy is there and waiting. Jesus spelt this out so clearly in the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son.
God does not desire the death of a sinner but that he should have life. "I have not come to condemn the world… I have come that they may have life, life in greater abundance."
Let me look at my own life. First, let me openly acknowledge my sinful acts, especially those where I have hurt others, and take full responsibility for them. Then let me turn to my God and ask for his healing that I may be made a whole person again.

+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 51
Create a clean heart in me, O God.
A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners shall return to you.
Create a clean heart in me, O God.
Free me from blood guilt, O God, my saving God;
then my tongue shall revel in your justice.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Create a clean heart in me, O God.
+++ +++ +++ +++

Mark 4:35-41
On that day, as evening drew on,
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Let us cross to the other side.”
Leaving the crowd,
they took Jesus with them in the boat just as he was.
And other boats were with him.
A violent squall came up
and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.

They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind,
and said to the sea, “Quiet! Be still!”
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them,
“Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?”
They were filled with great awe
and said to one another,
“Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?”

The Twelve came back from their mission full of excitement at all they had done and taught. Jesus now told them to withdraw for a while for reflection and rest. This is what Jesus himself used to do. Large crowds were still mobbing Jesus and perhaps some of the apostles too so that they did not even have time to eat. This could have been a real time of temptation as the apostles began to glory in their new-found power and the resultant fame and popularity.

We also see here once more the balance in Jesus’ life. He was so available to all those in need, the poor, the sick, the outcasts but there was a limit to his availability. He knew when he needed to get away, to renew contact with his Father, to recharge his batteries (cf. Mk 1:35-37).

Some people are too self-centered and have a very poor awareness of other people’s needs and do not bother to meet them. On the other hand, there are those who need to be needed, their need is to have people looking constantly for them but the result can often be "burnout" or breakdowns. There are times when we have to learn to be able to say No without feeling guilty.

So Jesus and his disciples take off in a boat to a solitary place where they will be left to themselves. Or so they thought. But the people saw them leaving and had a good idea where they were headed. While Jesus and his disciples crossed the lake in a boat, the people hurried along the lakeshore. When Jesus stepped out of the boat, he was faced by a huge crowd.

Jesus quickly decides that this is a time for availability. He is deeply moved by the people’s need, they were like lost sheep in need of a shepherd’s guidance. The people coming out to a desert place echoes the people of Israel in their wanderings. Here Jesus is the Shepherd of the New Israel. So he begins to teach them. Their first hunger was spiritual. They needed to understand what Jesus stood for and why he did the things he did. There is a Eucharistic connection here and in what follows (the multiplication of loaves) and the teaching corresponds to what we now call the Liturgy of the Word during the Eucharist.

The story illustrates well the balance in Jesus’ life. As he did himself, he urges his disciples to retire and reflect on the meaning of what they are doing. Otherwise they may become active for activity’s sake or for other less worthy motives. At the same time, in this particular situation, Jesus sees that a response is called for. The day of reflection is abandoned and the people in their great need are served. Let us learn, through careful discernment, to do the right thing at the right time.

Living Space
The Irish Jesuits

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