by Ryan Garner
Friday, February 19 – Psalms 95, 40, 54, 51; Gen. 40:1–23; 1 Cor. 3:16–23; Mark 2:13–22
(BCP Readings for today)
Perhaps the most taboo question we entertain during the Lenten season is: what exactly am I being penitent for? Sure, most of us carry around some sense that we are ‘broken,’ but on a daily basis we wander away from those specific ‘sins’ confessed the day before and our penitence takes the shape of vague confession. This is not an unusual condition. In fact, Psalm 51, a penitential song of David, takes that very shape. In the movement from confession to contemplation, the Psalm coordinates well with Lent by suggesting that man does not live by bread alone, but rather he lives by being bread.
A brief explanation exploration of the text is in order. Ancient confessions, like Psalm 51, existed in other religions. Yet, unlike Psalm 51, those ancient confessions listed many gods and many sins because the confessor did not know which god he/she had offended. Nor did they know what their transgression was. Psalm 51, conversely, begins with the opposite clarity. We see that David has already begun the trek from his specific sin to the reflective depths of who that sin is against.
David’s reflections on the nature of his transgression wander so deeply into his imagination that he claims that such brokenness was present even in the womb. Again, other ancient religions expressed this same sentiment. The Egyptians suggested that knowing gods’ laws were like a nourishing bread to the infant. Similarly, David’s reflections on the Bathsheba saga opens his eyes his negligence regarding God’s bread. In the end, David longs for purity not merely for his own soul but for his city.
The implications are elegant. David begins in the specificity of his sins, proceeds into the depths of his need for the bread of heaven, then points to the community’s need for that bread. His contemplation shows him that taking Bathsheba was a way of taking the law into his own hands as king. Or put differently, of hoarding the bread of God. He confesses that he is not the great King and that since birth he has not baked his own ‘bread.’ Thus, his hoarding of the bread/law of God threatens his whole kingdom. For they too must eat from God’s table.
I am wondering/wandering this season if perhaps the only way to proceed through Lent is not to avoid that question we began with but to embrace it. I can ask, “what I am I being purified for?” so that, even without assurance of an answer, I can see a greater need. That is, I can move past my checklist and on to seeing that I have hoarded bread. Then, I can begin to consider how such hoarding transgresses the great King and the community. Perhaps, during such a process, I can begin to understand the Christ who says that man cannot live by bread alone but who shows that man can live by being a broken bread for everyone else.
Image by Daniel Go (used by permission via Creative Commons).