by Rev. Roger Dowdy
All things new! That’s what the psalmist in Psalm 51 is longing for, hoping for, asking for. I know in my life there have been periods and moments when I longed for ‘all things new!’ I imagine you have or will also.
Come, walk with me through Psalm 51 to examine and savor the nature of this great psalm-prayer-hymn, searching for the ‘shape’ of honesty before God.
If you follow Eugene Peterson’s translation of Psalm 51 in The Message, you are immediately struck by the directness and openness of the psalmist, the genuineness of the confession and supplication (the ‘ask’), and the repetitive imagery of the cleansing, renewing “washing” (yes, even like freshly clean ‘laundry’!).
Directness With YAHWEH
The psalmist apparently knows Yahweh-God and who in reality God IS : a God of Love and Grace and Mercy in the fullness of all of those dimensions. The one singing and praying this psalm-hymn is fully open with God about the nature of the sin(s) committed and who has been hurt by those sins: ‘You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil.’ [vs.4]
Then the confession emerges, begins to pour forth, as the writer-singer-prayer acknowledges the inherent human tendency to sinfulness.
Genuineness of the Supplication
Verse 6 serves as a pivotal point in the hymn-prayer as the psalmist, in all honesty and genuineness. First it reflects what God desires, and second, the psalmist is genuinely clear about what she/he wants and needs: ‘What you’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.’ Much like Bartimaeus in the gospel encounter story in Luke 18:35-43, when Jesus asks Bartimaeus ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ – Bartimaeus answers, ‘I want to see again!’ The psalmist of Psalm 51 knows that deepest desire: ‘Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.’
Cleansing, Renewing “Washing”– All to Music!
The psalmist becomes almost ecstatic in asking God to act in ways the psalmist knows only God can act. God acting in and through the penitent sinner:
‘Soak me, scrub me, tune me, set me dancing, make a fresh start in me, breathe holiness in me, bring me back from exile, put fresh wind in my sails, give me a meaningful job, commute my sentence, unbutton my lips!…..and I will sing anthems to You!’
The psalm-hymn closes with the full realization that what will be required is much more than ‘going through the actions…’ – that re-penitence and true turning is best accomplished we one is most needful, most open or vulnerable: most ‘ready for Love’.
The final two verses shifts from the individual psalmist, to the supplication of the whole congregation!
The penitential 40-day season of Lent is upon us. In preparation, we would do well to mediate on Psalm 51 and what is that we should ‘ask’ God to do for us – and we should ask, like the psalmist, in all directness, genuineness, and fully praising God for all that God is – has done – will do.
May it be so! Amen!
Scripture quotations taken from THE MESSAGE- the Bible in Contemporary Language, Eugene Peterson, ©NavPress, 1993-2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.