Psalm 51:1–17 (NRSV)
Verse 1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Verse 2Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
Verse 3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Verse 4Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Verse 5Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
Verse 6You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Verse 7Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Verse 8Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Verse 9Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Verse 10Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Verse 11Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Verse 12Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Verse 13Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Verse 14Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
Verse 15O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
Verse 16For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
Verse 17The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
This psalm is traditionally attributed to David, when the prophet Nathan confronts his sinful behavior (2 Samuel 12). “Have mercy on me, O God!” cries David, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”
Such a prayer is countercultural in today’s world. We rarely hear a public figure confess sin and ask for forgiveness. Instead, non-apologies go something like this: “Mistakes were made.” “I should have known better.” As if sin is simply a temporary lapse in judgment, a quirk to be passed over quickly.
David knows better. Unconfessed sin is heavy, too heavy to bear. So David makes no excuses for his behavior, but relies on God’s abundant mercy to take his broken heart (verse 17) and create a new heart within him (verse 10).
In this, at least, David is a model for us. During this Lenten season, may we be quick to confess the sin that weighs us down so that we might walk in the way of the cross with unburdened hearts.
Create in us clean hearts, O God. Give us grace to confess our sins to you and to one another, so that we may again rejoice in your salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.