Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lord, Forgive The Wrong I Have Done.

Wednesday of the Fourth Week in Ordinary Time

Reading I
2 Samuel 24:2, 9-17
King David said to Joab
and the leaders of the army who were with him,
“Tour all the tribes in Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba
and register the people, that I may know their number.”
Joab then reported to the king the number of people registered:
in Israel, eight hundred thousand men fit for military service;
in Judah, five hundred thousand.

Afterward, however,
David regretted having numbered the people,
and said to the LORD:
“I have sinned grievously in what I have done.
But now, LORD, forgive the guilt of your servant,
for I have been very foolish.”
When David rose in the morning,
the LORD had spoken to the prophet Gad,
David’s seer, saying:
“Go and say to David, ‘This is what the LORD says:
I offer you three alternatives;
choose one of them, and I will inflict it on you.’”
Gad then went to David to inform him. He asked:
“Do you want a three years’ famine
to come upon your land,
or to flee from your enemy three months
while he pursues you,
or to have a three days’ pestilence in your land?
Now consider and decide
what I must reply to him who sent me.”
David answered Gad: “I am in very serious difficulty.
Let us fall by the hand of God, for he is most merciful;
but let me not fall by the hand of man.”
Thus David chose the pestilence.
Now it was the time of the wheat harvest
when the plague broke out among the people.
The LORD then sent a pestilence over Israel
from morning until the time appointed,
and seventy thousand of the people
from Dan to Beer-sheba died.
But when the angel stretched forth his hand
toward Jerusalem to destroy it,
the LORD regretted the calamity
and said to the angel
causing the destruction among the people,
“Enough now! Stay your hand.”
The angel of the LORD was then standing
at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
When David saw the angel who was striking the people,
he said to the LORD: “It is I who have sinned;
it is I, the shepherd, who have done wrong.
But these are sheep; what have they done?
Punish me and my kindred.”
Today’ First Reading is our last reading from the Second Book of Samuel. We are also coming to the end of David’s life. Today’s reading comes from the final chapter of 2 Samuel. It seems that the material was originally part of chapter 21 where we are told that there had been three consecutive years of famine.

David gives a command for a military census to be made of the whole country from the far north (Dan) to the very south (Beer-Sheba). However, as soon as it was done, David deeply regretted what he had done. The preceding verse (not in our reading) implies that David’s decision was the result of God’s anger against the people and would result in a lot of suffering.

The census does not appear to have been prompted by any external threat. Since he wanted to know how many there are (verse 2), it is evident that his action was motivated either by pride in the size of the empire he had acquired or by reliance for his security on the size of the reserve of manpower he could muster in an emergency or, more likely, both.

The mere taking of a census was hardly sinful (there were precedents in the past) but in this instance it represented an unwarranted glorying in and dependence on human power rather than the Lord (not much different from Israel’s initial desire to have a king for their security, see 1 Samuel 8-12). In those days a census was often considered impious because it usurped the prerogative of God to whom alone it belonged to give increase to family and nation. The act in many ways was uncharacteristic of David.

The result of the census found that in Israel (the northern part of the kingdom) there were 800,000 men fit for military service and in Judah (the southern part) there were 500,000. Even by today’s standards for a large country, they would be huge figures so we can take it they are highly inflated. This, of course, only makes clearer the taking of the census as evidence of pride.

Almost immediately, David could see the whole exercise as a not so subtle act of arrogance, of pride in the size of his kingdom, and of the material resources he had to deal with any enemies. In other words, it seemed to turn the focus away from the Israelites’ real source of strength and security, namely, the Lord God and towards themselves. David now begs God’s forgiveness for what he has done.

And indeed God seems to concur with David’s view. The following day, Gad the seer is sent with a message. David is offered a choice of three forms of punishment: three years of famine, to be on the run from his enemies for three months, or endure a pestilence for three days. The three alternative judgments were all included in the curses that Moses said would come on God’s people when they failed to adhere to their covenant obligations (see Deuteronomy 28:15-25).

It was a very difficult choice but David chose the last of the three – three days of pestilence. “Let us fall by the hand of God, for he is most merciful,” he said. David, who knew both God and war, knew that even in his anger God was more merciful than man let loose in the rampages of war (see Psalm 30:5).

It may have been only three days but it coincided with the time of the wheat harvest. The death toll throughout the nation was 70,000 people. But as the plague was about to destroy Jerusalem, God relented and stayed the hand of the avenging angel. He stopped at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. This was located on Mount Moriah, immediately north of David’s city and overlooking it. Later it would become the site of the temple.

Characteristically, David takes responsibility for the sin that had been committed. The sin was his and not that of the people. It was David’s decision to have the census. They should not have had to suffer. "It is I who have sinned; it is I, the shepherd, who have done wrong. But these are sheep… Punish me and my kindred." The people of Israel were certainly not without guilt; in fact, it was the Lord’s anger against them that led David to order the census for which they would have to pay the price. Even so, David characteristically assumes full blame for his own act and acknowledges his responsibility as king for the well-being of the Lord’s people.

The story reminds us of the subtle arrogance that can rule our lives. We can set so much store by our intellectual or academic abilities, by our professional skills or status, by the material goods we have accumulated. And we forget how really vulnerable we are and how little we can do without God’s help.

There is also our constant tendency to lay the blame on others when things go wrong. We don’t find it easy to follow David’s example.

Let us reflect today on where we put our day to day security and where God fits into our lifestyle.

+++    +++    +++    +++   
Psalm 32
Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
Blessed is he whose fault is taken away,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed the man to whom the LORD imputes not guilt,
in whose spirit there is no guile.
Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
my guilt I covered not.
I said, “I confess my faults to the LORD,”
and you took away the guilt of my sin.
Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
For this shall every faithful man pray to you
in time of stress.
Though deep waters overflow,
they shall not reach him.
Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
You are my shelter;
from distress you will preserve me;
with glad cries of freedom you will ring me round.
Lord, forgive the wrong I have done.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Mark 6:1-6
Jesus departed from there and came to his native place,
accompanied by his disciples.
When the sabbath came
he began to teach in the synagogue,
and many who heard him were astonished.
They said, “Where did this man get all this?
What kind of wisdom has been given him?
What mighty deeds are wrought by his hands!
Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary,
and the brother of James and Joseph
and Judas and Simon?
And are not his sisters here with us?”
And they took offense at him.
Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor
except in his native place
and among his own kin and in his own house.”
So he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people
by laying his hands on them.
He was amazed at their lack of faith.
 Jesus returns to his home town in the company of his disciples. On the sabbath day, as was his right, he began teaching in the synagogue. His listeners, who all knew him since he was a child, are staggered at the way he speaks. "Where did the man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been granted him and these miracles that are worked through him?" He had no more education than any of his fellow villagers. But the point is that they do recognize his wisdom and his power to perform miracles. Yet, he is “only” a carpenter, the son of Mary and related to James and Joseph and Jude and Simon and with “sisters” as well.

And, because they knew him so well, they could not accept him. They deliberately chose not to see what was happening before their eyes. This, of course, is the irony of the whole situation. They did not know him at all. They were blinded by a superficial familiarity. So Jesus says, "A prophet is only despised in his own country, among his own relations, and in his own house." A saying known in other cultures and an experience all too often repeated in our own day. In comparing himself to the Hebrew prophets who went before him, Jesus foreshadows his ultimate rejection by many of his own people. We have already seen his problems with his own family and now with his townspeople. It is not the end.

The trap of familiarity is one we can all fall into very easily. How many times have we failed to recognise the voice of Jesus speaking to us because the person is someone we meet every day, a person we may not like or despise? But God can and does talk to us through all kinds of people, Catholic or not, relative, friend, colleague, our own children, total stranger, educated, uneducated…

As a result, we are told, Jesus not only did not but "could not” work any miracles there, except for a few sick people who were cured by the laying of hands. But he could not help those who had no faith in him. Jesus works only when we cooperate and open ourselves to him. Mark often says how amazed the people are at Jesus’ teaching. Now it is Jesus” turn to be amazed at his home town’s lack of faith and trust in him.

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