Scripture: Psalm 51
Key verse: (10) “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”
Reflection: In his book, The Big Picture: An American Commentary, A. Whitney Brown writes, “Any good history book is mainly just a long list of mistakes, complete with names and dates. It’s very embarrassing.” (As quoted in the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary on Psalms, written by J. Clinton McCann, Jr.) By this standard, the Old Testament is a great history book, for it offers a long list of mistakes. From Adam and Eve in the garden, to the golden calf in the wilderness, to Israel’s experiment with kings, again and again God’s people make mistakes that carry serious consequences.
Tradition affirms that today’s Psalm was penned by King David in the wake of one of those terrible mistakes — his adulterous affair with Bathsheba. That story is told in 2 Samuel 11-12. In that instance, David violates at least four of the Ten Commandments. He covets his neighbor’s wife, he commits adultery, he bears false witness to cover up his sin, then he orchestrates the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. His advisor, Nathan ultimately confronts him with the sin he has committed. According to 2 Samuel 12:13, David confesses his sin. According to the tradition, he writes Psalm 51. While David’s sins might not be our own, our own histories could certainly be defined by a long list of mistakes. It’s true for us as individuals, in our families, our churches, our communities. Sin pervades our lives. Within the Calvinist tradition, this is known as “total depravity.” It is the human condition. It’s very embarrassing.
J. Clinton McCann writes, “This is the bad news. But the good news of Psalm 51 is even more prominent. Psalm 51 is not just about human nature, it’s about God’s nature. And the good news is that God is willing to forgive sinners and is able to re-create people.” That story of re-creation is also what the Bible is all about. Again and again, God restores, God reconciles, God redeems. That redemption opens the door for new life on the other side of our mistakes. Echoing words of the Psalmist, God puts a new spirit within us that makes things right, restoring us to the joy of our salvation, upholding us with a generous spirit. Thanks be to God!
Prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].