Saturday of week 3 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:1-7, 10-17

If David thought he could get away with the terrible crimes he committed, he was deeply mistaken.

Hardly had Bathsheba given birth to the boy when David is confronted by the prophet Nathan. “The Lord sent Nathan to David.” Prophets are primarily people who bring a message from God. We met Nathan before when David complained to him about his discomfort of living in a house of cedar while the Ark of the Covenant was still in a tent (2 Sam 7:2). Here the prophet comes to proclaim God’s judgement against the king he had set over his own people.

The message is uttered through one of the most striking parables to be found in the Old Testament. Nathan tells David about a rich man, the owner of large herds, who takes for his own table not one of his own many sheep but the single ewe lamb of a poor peasant in order to entertain a visitor. Not only was this the only sheep the farmer owned but “she was like a daughter to him” and shared the little food that he had.

On hearing the story, David was filled with indignation and declared that the rich man deserved to be executed. “He shall restore the ewe lamb fourfold because he has done this and has had no pity.” Repaying four times was a requirement of the Law (cf. Exod 22:1). It reminds us of what the chief tax collector, Zacchaeus, said to Jesus after their encounter: “If I have cheated anyone, I will pay back four times as much” (Luke 19:8)

Nathan then quietly says to David: “You are the man!” Nothing more had to be said. What David had done was, in fact, many times worse than taking a lamb from a poor man. He had stolen a man’s wife and then cold-bloodedly had him killed.

Nathan then goes on (not part of our reading) to list some of the things that David had received from the Lord, including the wives and harem of his predecessor, Saul. “I gave you your lord’s house and your lord’s wives for your own.” In spite of being surrounded by so many women, he goes and steals another man’s wife and then has Uriah killed by the Ammonites, the enemy they were fighting. But it was really David who had killed Uriah; he was no tragic victim of battle.

Speaking in God’s name Nathan spells out David’s punishment: violence and death will come to his own family: three of his sons, Amnon, Absalom and Adonijah will all die violent deaths. “I will bring evil on you out of your own house. I will take your wives while you live to see it and will give them to your neighbour. He shall lie with your wives in broad daylight.” All this took place during the rebellion of David’s son Absalom, when David was forced to flee his palace but left behind ten concubines. David’s wives would be taken just as he had taken the wife of Uriah. Finally, what David thought he had done in secret becomes public knowledge.

In a spirit of deep remorse and repentance, David totally acknowledges his sin. His feelings are beautifully expressed in Psalm 51, part of which forms today’s Responsorial Psalm.

My offences truly I know them;
my sin is always before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned;
what is evil in your sight I have done.

But Nathan tells David that his sin is forgiven. He will not die for it (as the law demanded) but he will lose the child of his adultery. The boy fell sick and David was devastated, refusing to eat and sleeping on the ground wearing sackcloth, the sign of repentance. Despite the urging of his courtiers he refused to get up from the ground nor would he eat. He was heartbroken not just because of the death of his son but because of the circumstances in which the child had been born in the first place. This was the price of his sin.

It is not our sins which condemn us in God’s eyes but our refusal to repent and change our ways. Once we genuinely express our sorrow and show it by a “conversion”, God’s mercy is there and waiting. Jesus spelt this out so clearly in the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son. God does not desire the death of a sinner but that he should have life. “I have not come to condemn the world… I have come that they may have life, life in greater abundance.”

Let me look at my own life. First, let me openly acknowledge my sinful acts, especially those where I have hurt others, and take full responsibility for them. Then let me turn to my God and ask for his healing that I may be made a whole person again.

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