Psalm 51: Contrition
March 14, 2015
The most famous of the lament psalms, this prayer is said often during the Lenten season; it is also called Prayer of Repentance. It was written after David sinned with Bathsheba and their child was lost (2 Samuel 11 and 12).
“The first part (3-10) asks deliverance from sin, which is not just a past act but its emotional, physical, and social consequences. The second part (11-19) seeks something more profound than wiping the slate clean: nearness to God, living by the spirit of God (12-13), like the relation between God and people described in Jer. 21, 33-34. Nearness to God brings joy and the authority to teach sinners (15-16). Such proclamation is better than offering sacrifice (17-19). The last two verses ask for the rebuilding of Jerusalem (20-21) . . . Most scholars think that these verses were added to the psalm some time after the destruction of the temple in 587 B.C. The verses assume that the rebuilt temple will be the ideal site for national reconciliation”. (Senior 680-681)
The elements that help to bring us to reconciliation in this prayer are the call to be cleansed and purified with the sprinkling of the hyssop – a woody bush whose small branches were used in ceremonial sprinkling as prescribed by Mosaic Law – the acknowledgment that our wrongdoings effect every part of us – even our inmost heart – and the understanding that true reconciliation comes only through God’s healing hand. The writer of this psalm knows and expresses the idea that we of ourselves are nothing and can do nothing . . . other than act in and of God.
Senior, Donald, ed. THE CATHOLIC STUDY BIBLE. New York, Oxford University Press, 1990.680-681. Print.
Adapted from a reflection written on February 11, 2010.