2Sm 11:1-4a,5-10a,13-17; Ps 51:3-11; Mk 4:26-34
Both Old Testament and early church tradition attribute the Book of Psalms to King David. Certainly this psalm response expresses the attitude of someone who is truly repentant. We cannot understand the depths of this psalm without reference to our first reading or reference to someone caught up in the movement from sin to sanctity. The Psalmist prays as David would pray in the first person. Even the petition for mercy depends upon the great goodness and compassion of the LORD. Because the LORD has revealed his mercy again and again, we dare to approach him in our sin and ask, “Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.” This heartfelt petition arises out of a painful honesty found in the acknowledgment of the offense. Indeed, it is a sin that constantly nags at one’s heart; it is always in sight. Yet, what makes this guilt even more painful is that it’s not just an offence against some list of do’s and don’ts; it truly separates one from the One who first loved us. Sin is a very personal disruption of a very loving relationship. The next incremental step in this movement of repentance is the honest recognition that the evil committed is really evil and worthy of condemnation, and God is not unjust to condemn. The depth of the guilt now touches on the very core identity of the sinner, and he is aware of how all of life has been so afflicted and poisoned. Finally, the repentant sinner longs to hear what he does not deserve to hear, yet, what he has grown to expect because he knows the LORD is kind and full of mercy. He pleads to hear the sound of forgiveness and absolution; the only sounds that will bring joy and gladness into his heart. Only these words will heal bones that are crushed so that they leap and dance rejoicing. So the sinner prays with his whole heart, “Turn away your face from my sins, and blot out all my guilt.”
Before we can understand King David’s heartfelt prayer, “Turn away your face from my sins, and blot out all my guilt,” we must listen carefully to the first reading. David the king decided not to go out and risk his life yet again to fight against the enemies of Israel. The Ammonites, however, are engaged in battle by the King David’s loyal army under the command of his friend, Joab. Meanwhile back in the safety of his city walls, King David does not engage his invisible enemy. Lust assaults the heart of the king through his wandering eyes. King David notices Bathsheba bathing, and his heart is moved to take and conquer. He sends out for his conquest, and has his way with her. We do not hear of any protest or resistance, perhaps, it is an honor to be so taken by your king. At least this was the attitude of the pagan cultures surrounding Israel. The sin of adultery is bad enough, but upon hearing that Bathsheba is with child, the king has to protect his honor, or at least his public reputation. Try though he might, King David could not get his loyal warrior Uriah to take a break from being ready to fight again. He could not get lost in the privileges and safety of the city while his comrades at arms were in harms way. The only way the King could get rid of his enemy, the loyal Uriah, was to have his friend set him up for death on the battlefield. David is deadly and deliberate about his lust and his cover-up. Such evil is especially painful to see in a King so loved and favored by the LORD. David could not live with his guilt and eventually the prophet was able to summon him to repentance. Eventually, the King would pray with his shattered heart, “Turn away your face from my sins, and blot out all my guilt”.
King David and all of us who give into temptation do not prevent the arrival of the Kingdom of God, but we do slow down its arrival. This is part of the mystery of the Kingdom. This mystery the Lord Jesus presents to the crowds in parables and explains in private to his disciples. We are part of both groups. We get a glimpse of the mystery of the Kingdom as we listen with our hearts to his stories and word-images. We also need the further understanding that comes when the disciples admit that they are obtuse. The seed that contains the power to produce new life and new food is unstoppable. Indeed, “of its own accord” the land surrounds the seed with nutrients and moisture. This blade, ear, and full grain necessarily follow the interaction of the earth and the sun. The science of Jesus’ time did not even give this much understanding of the process of photosynthesis and food production. For them it was all hidden in the mystery of God and God’s nature. Though some of the mystery has been revealed by science, there is still a wondrous mystery hidden in this parable and in the parable of the mustard seed. It is tiny, yet it grows into one of the largest of plants with grand branches, so that all the birds have a place to find comfort and food. Although so tiny and seemingly insignificant, this mustard seed is full of the potential that keeps cropping up in our lives, even though sin also keeps cropping up. When the darkness of sin and evil attempts to put out the light of faith the breath of the Spirit blows over the chaos of our lives. The movement from the first reading to the responsorial psalm is nothing less that this great wonder of grace and mercy. Where sin abounds, grace all the more abounds. The sin of King David does not destroy the faithfulness of the LORD. More certain than food and greatness in the seeds is the certainty of the LORD’s love and mercy. Indeed, the true son of David, Jesus the Christ, provides full pardon for all sinners by his cross that is the tree of life in the Kingdom of God.