#6 of a Series on Psalm 50
Well, it would seem we’re not making a whole lot of progress working through the verses of Psalm 50 and unfortunately we won’t seemingly get very much further today – our focus for today is ‘Me’!
Our phrase for reflection is, ‘Have mercy on me O Lord” and have spent a little time on “Lord, have mercy”, we’ll go to the second half of the phrases – Have mercy on Me.
So What about Me? It’s all about Me
The Orthodox Faith exists in two modes – and they can run in parallel tracks. The first is familiar – it’s the Church of our experience with all of her adornments, church buildings, prayer forms, community activities, icons, incense, music and art, etc. Like the proverbial smorgasbord, we can show up and just engage with it all, or some of it, on a Sunday morning. Lent and Holy Week provide special experiences and it all reaches a summit of experience in Pascha. And as in a good show, it’s ends, we go home, go back to ‘normal’ and just engage in it all when we choose to. In this case, the best show wins – with the ‘best’ icons, music, etc. is where we gravitate.
The second and parallel track of the Orthodox Faith is very different. While the external things may impact it, they’re secondary to another internal question to the believer – ‘How is my soul responding to all of this?’ Where is God in all of this (if anywhere)? When we experience joy from a service (above) what happens in my soul? Am I more drawn to pray, do I love others, or seek a spiritual way to bring me more of the spiritual life? Is a personal contact with the Divine possible? Desirable? If so, what is it like?
Religions try to pull the two tracks into one and Orthodoxy is no different. Some people focus on their personal faith path and ignore the first mode. And it’s quite possible for a person to experience the first mode, but not the latter.
David was not such a person. The scriptures show us David’s ‘engagement’ with God was quite personal – his ‘prayers’ were not just religious utterances, but personal expressions to God of what he thought and believed about life, himself, others from the depths of his being. It was a way of life for him, with a vision of a majestic, and yet loving and intimate God. Likewise, God did His part in moving mysteriously in David’s life, allowing for this way of communication through prayer and psalms, and wondrous experiences like his call to action in faith in defeating the monstrous Goliath and his anointing as the King of God’s people on earth. So, for David, the faith was much about him, in a good way. How the God of creation brought this about was viewed as a blessing, and being chosen and beloved by the Lord.
And so, when it came to his epic failure – his sin with Bathsheba and murder of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, the effect was profoundly personal – it tore at his heart apart. Now despite this inner wrenching pain we see his ‘evasive maneuvers’ trying to deflect his personal sensitivity, but his explanations about bringing home Uriah to be with his wife (and hide the possibility of pregnancy) and the ‘justification’ for sending him to the front to die and was that ‘bad things happen’ (2Sam 11). He was lying to himself of course – deflecting externally the pain of conscience that was tearing him up. But when the Lord, Who loved him, sent Nathan the prophet to cut through his denials, David showed that his extraordinary relationship with God was authentic, proven by the river of tears of sorrow in his eyes and heart.
For David, his words, “Have mercy on me” are extremely personal – begging for God’s mercy on him. No time to worry about anyone else – family, friends, nation, etc. When your gasping for air going under for the third time it’s about you. And in this case, it was the burden of his sin with Bathsheba was a great weight pushing him down. His is a cry for HELP! He saw his life flash before his eyes – not his physical life – but his eternity of life which was tied with his relationship with God.
Now when you’re drowning in an ocean of darkness like that, you just don’t know if you’ll be heard or anyone will come. But David had the sense that because he had known God so intimately, that the God of the universe would indeed hear him. What he would do was another matter. It’s kinda’ like the Prodigal Son who realizes that his only hope lies in his father’s house and so he directs his will in that direction, the right direction. Like the Prodigal Son, his penitential cry is desperate, but it’s also personal. He believes that somehow, his Father (God) will be there. He’s prepared for the worst and some sort of punishment but that doesn’t matter – he has to survive.
The bible says and the Fathers affirm, “The wages of sin is death.”(Rom. 6:23) For David, his need to confess his sin was life and death. Death was at the door and his only way to avoid it was to call out to God to receive deliverance from his personal sin. This again is not some vague ‘sinfulness’ or personal failure – but a crushing realization of his spiritual plight.
This personal dimension of faith is a wonderful gift of God. For the person who does not acknowledge the presence of God or any moral authority, there is only Me/I and no one to need to give an account for. But ironically, we are never alone or solely self-centered, because by placing the human conscience within us that somehow, if we are human in the least, there is a voice that inspires us to goodness, caring and godliness. My “I” (ego) cannot shake my conscience though we’re good at dodging it sometimes for what seems like a lifetime. But as I heard from a woman last weekend, she was only just recently started coming to church because she had a life-altering near-death experience in a car crash. While each of us is unique, you and I are very similar in this way. When the chips are down, we’re going to look up.
So when David cries, “Have mercy on me, God”. He is saying this For Real – from the depth of his heart, not as a religious observer. That’s when real penance happens, and conversion happens. When Christ says, ‘Repent’to you and me – this is what he means.