Friday, March 29, 2013

The Seven Last Words

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do. 

Jesus, You spoke these words through Your pain, through the agony of the scourging, the horror of the crowning of thorns, and the anguish of the crucifixion. You continued to love even those who were torturing You. You begged the Father to forgive them even though they never asked for Your forgiveness. How much more will You have mercy on those who come to You with repentant hearts! Dear Jesus, forgive us for all the sins that we have committed, sins that helped to crucify You, and give us the grace to forgive those who have wronged us, even if they never ask for it. 

Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise. 

Jesus, You spoke these wonderful words to the good thief who had just asked You to remember Him when You came into Your kingdom. He believed in You. You gave him the promise of a lifetime, of an eternity. Dear Jesus, You are in Your kingdom; give us the grace to live with You in that kingdom now, and bring us home to live with You in Heaven forever. 

Woman, behold you son. Behold your mother. 

Jesus, You spoke these words to Mary and John, who were standing at the foot of Your cross. With them, You gave Mary to all of us as our mother, and You gave all of us to Mary as her children. As our mother, Mary prays for us constantly, distributes all the graces that flow from Your hands, and brings our every need before You. Dear Jesus, give us the grace to grow close to our Mother Mary and to allow her to lead us to You. 

My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? 

Jesus, You spoke these words to Your Father. With them, You acknowledged that You were experiencing the anguish of feeling abandonment. You suffered that for us. We can be certain that You always know exactly how we suffer when we feel like God is not active in our lives, when we feel like He doesn't care. Dear Jesus, give us the grace to remember that God never actually abandons us, no matter how we feel. 

I thirst. 

Jesus, You spoke these words from the cross. You probably were very thirsty physically, but You were even more thirsty for the salvation of souls. You died that all people might be saved, might know You, might enter into Your kingdom, might be with You forever in Heaven. Dear Jesus, give us the grace to thirst like You do for the salvation of souls and to cooperate with You in our prayers, sacrifices, and loving works that Your thirst and ours may be satisfied. 

It is finished. 

Jesus, You spoke these words when Your life on earth was done. You had suffered as much as anyone could ever suffer, and You did it all for us. Now that part of Your mission is finished. You will suffer no more. You will go into the arms of death, but You will not stay there. Dear Jesus, give us the grace to courageously say these words at the end of our lives and go to meet death, knowing that death is not the end and that we will really be meeting You. 

Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit. 

Jesus, You spoke these words to Your Father as You died. You gave Yourself completely to Him just as You always had in life. You trusted Him totally. You surrendered entirely. Dear Jesus, give us the grace to give ourselves entirely to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, now in our lives, at the moment of our death, and forever in Heaven. 


Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Palm Sunday

The Two Thieves 

In today's Gospel, Luke 22:14 – 23:56, we hear the story of the two thieves who were crucified one on either side of Jesus. Let's take a closer look at their role in the Passion narrative. 

Who were these two men? 

Luke describes them with the Greek word kakourgos, which means evil-doer or malefactor. Matthew calls them by the Greek word lēstēs, robbers or brigands. We don't know what these two fellows did to to get themselves crucified, but whatever it was, murder, revolt, serious thievery, it couldn't have been good. Unlike Jesus, they were guilty of whatever crime they had committed. One of them even admits it: “...we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes...” 

What did these two criminals know about Jesus? 

They might have heard something about His preaching and His miracles, for nearly everyone in Jerusalem did. They certainly knew He had been sentenced to death because of His claim of kingship. They may have known how the crowd roared against Him, demanding the release of Barabbas, who might even have been one of the thieves' comrades in crime. They may have known something about the abuse He had received from the Jews and the Romans, for they had probably received a good bit of that themselves. They probably walked the way of the cross with Jesus, so they would have seen how He responded to the taunts of the crowds, how He maintained His silence. They likely saw Jesus interact lovingly with His mother, with Veronica, with Simon of Cyrene, and with the women of Jerusalem. They saw the wounds on Jesus' body, the crown of thorns on His head, and the nails driven into His hands and feet. They heard Him say, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” They had observed enough to know that Jesus was different. 

How did the first thief respond to Jesus? 

The first thief followed the crowd. He heard the people and the soldiers jeering at Jesus, and he went right along with them. The text says that he “reviled” Jesus. In the Greek, this verb is blasphēmeō. He blasphemes Jesus, vilifies Him, speaks evil of Him, defames Him, even rails at Him. We can almost hear him screaming, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us.” This man cares nothing for Jesus and His claims. He is wrapped up in himself, thinking about his own survival, perhaps even trying to get in good with the crowd. He never realizes that Jesus could be the answer to all his problems. 

How does the other thief respond to Jesus? 

This man's response is totally different than that of his fellow criminal. In fact, he rebukes the other thief: “Have you no fear of God,” he asks, “for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this Man has done nothing criminal.” This second thief has seen enough of Jesus to know that He is innocent. A guilty man would not have acted with so much love and compassion. Something in Jesus assures him of that. His heart has opened up to allow in the grace that Jesus is radiating, even during His immense suffering. The thief understands that there is much more to Jesus than he can see. Deep in his heart, he realizes that Jesus is indeed a king, but not in the earthly sense of the word. He turns toward Jesus and begs, “Jesus, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” 

The Good Thief's Reward 

Picture the love in Jesus' eyes as He turns toward the criminal who has just expressed his deep and hopeful faith. “Amen, I say to you,” He replies, “today you will be with Me in Paradise.” Paradise. With Jesus. This is certainly more than the thief could ever have hoped for. A place in the Kingdom of Christ. He probably doesn't understand what it means yet, but he knows it is true. He knows he is forgiven. He knows he has found mercy. He can die in peace. The thief hears Jesus cry, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit.” He sees Jesus breathe His last. He notices the darkness come over the whole land. He may even hear the centurion proclaim, “This man was innocent beyond doubt.” As the soldiers come toward him to break his legs and end his painful suffering, he perhaps utters one final prayer. Then his spirit goes off to accept the offer that Jesus has held out to him. He goes to join Jesus in Paradise.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 44

Psalm 44 is labeled as a “Maskil,” a Hebrew word that can refer to an instructional or contemplative song. It's probably safe to say that Psalm 44 combines instruction and contemplation as it reflects on the victories of Israel's history and laments Israel's current trials. 

The psalm's first eight verses provide a meditation on God's past support for Israel. “We have heard with our ears, O God, our ancestors have told us, what deeds You performed in the days of old:” Listening was very important to the Israelites. They wanted to know their heritage. They valued their ancestors and the stories they could tell. These stories of common memory, passed down from parent to child, were the fabric of Israelite society. Why? Because the Israelites understood that God was active in their history. Knowing history led to knowing God. Understanding past events led to understanding God's will. The Hebrew word for “have heard” is shâma‛, and it suggests not just a passive hearing but an active, intelligent, attentive, discerning listening that leads to obedience. Listening to the stories of the past helped the Israelites determine how to respond to the events of the present. 

Hearing about God's deeds in history, then, allowed the Israelites to grasp the power of God and His care for them. What were these deeds of God? The psalmist tells us in the next two verses. God drove out the nations so He could plant the Israelites in the Promised Land. He punished the people currently living in the land, people who worshiped other “gods” with murderous and impure rites, and He set the Israelites free that they might worship the one true God in the home He had given them. The psalmist is very clear: the Israelites did nothing on their own, “for not by their own sword did they win the land, nor did their own arm give them victory...” (verse 3). They would not have been powerful enough to conquer the well-established tribes on their own. They were far too small and far too weak. But they had a “secret weapon”; they had God. It was His “right hand,” His arm, and the light of His face that brought them victory. His power did it. His care. His concern. His presence. Why? Because God delighted in His people. He was pleased with them. He loved them. He wanted to show them His favor. 

In verses 4-8, the psalmist personally accepts the truths he has been relating, for he resumes the use of first person pronouns. God has not merely done great things for the psalmist's ancestors; He has also performed amazing deeds for the psalmist and his generation. “You are my King and my God,” he proclaims. In God and through the power of His Name (Hebrew shêm, authority, honor, and character as well as name), the psalmist and his fellow warriors have battled against their opponents and put to shame those who attacked them. The psalmist realizes that these victories would not have been won but for God's intervention. “For not in my bow do I trust,” he asserts, “nor can my sword save me.” No, it was God Who saved the psalmist and his fellow Israelites from their enemies. They boast only in God and His power, and they offer Him perpetual thanksgiving. The Hebrew word for “boast” has all kinds of interesting connotations. It can mean everything from celebrate, praise, and glory to shine forth and make a show. The Israelites are doing all these things when it comes to boasting in God. They are celebrating His deeds, praising His Name, glorying in His love, shining forth His power, and making a show of the wonderful things He has done for them. 

At verse 9, however, the psalmist drastically changes his tone. After all of the wonderful things God has done for the Israelites in the past, now it seems like He has abandoned them. “Yet You have rejected us and abased us,” the psalmist complains, “and have not gone out with our armies.” The Israelites have been forced to retreat. The enemy has captured spoil, slaughtered the people, and taken captives. The Israelites are the laughingstock of their neighbors, who deride them and scorn them. They are in complete disgrace; the name “Israel” is a mere joke.

The psalmist feels like God has sold them out...and for a very meager price at that. He is ashamed and confused. He just doesn't understand, for he can't see how the Israelites have deserved this. “All this has come upon us,” he tells God, “yet we have not forgotten You, or been false to Your covenant.” You can hear the hurt behind the words. Why God? Why do bad things happen to good people? It's an age-old question, one that has been asked millions, even billions, of times since the beginning of history. Why God, the psalmist asks, have “You broken us in the haunt of jackals, and covered us with deep darkness”? We feel abandoned, God. We feel like we're in the wilderness, alone in the dark. 

The psalmist continues his lament and his questioning in verses 20-22: “If we had forgotten the name of our God, or spread out our hands to a strange god, would not God discover this? For He knows the secrets of the heart.” The Israelites have not forgotten God, as the first part of the psalm asserts so clearly. They have given God the honor and praise and glory due to Him. God knows that. He must, for He knows everything, even their deepest, darkest secrets. Yet “because of You,” the psalmist whines, “we are being killed all day long, and accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” 

The psalm ends with a prayer. “Rouse yourself!” the psalmist prays. “Why do You sleep, O Lord? Awake, do not cast us off forever!” God, he cries, don't forget us in our misery! We're so low right now, down in the dust, clinging to the ground. Wake up; help us! “Redeem us for the sake of Your steadfast love.” It's all about love, after all, God's love. No matter what kinds of hardships we face, we can be 100% sure that God loves us. Even when we think He isn't paying attention to us, even when we think He's letting us flounder in our pain and weakness, even when we're positive He doesn't care, God loves us. The psalmist knows this, too, for God has proven it over and over again throughout salvation history. Christians can be even more certain, for God Himself came as a Man to save us from our sins and open the way to Heaven. Jesus Christ suffered and died for us and rose again that we may be with Him in Heaven for all eternity. Now that's love. We know it in history; we know it in trials and troubles; we know it now and forever.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Fifth Sunday of Lent

Moving Forward

Today's readings encourage us to keep moving forward, to leave the past behind and march on to new and greater things. 

In the First Reading, Isaiah 43:16-21, God speaks through the prophet, saying, “Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” 

God has something different in store for His people. The exile of the past will be gone. The pain of absence from the Promised Land will be erased. But things will not simply go back to being just as they were before. No. God is doing something new. He is creating rivers where there was once dry land. He is pouring out His grace over a parched world. His chosen people, once weak and dehydrated, will drink of this fountain and sing His praise. The Living Water will flow out over the entire world. 

It is time to move forward. 

The psalm response (from Psalm 126) resounds with this foretold praise: “The Lord has done great things for us; we are filled with joy.” 

Remembering the return from exile, the psalmist laughs with joy. God has done great things for His people! They have sown their fate in tears, weeping because of the punishment their sinfulness brought down upon them. But thanks to God's mercy, they reap rejoicing, crying out with gladness at the unexpected harvest. The exile is gone; sin is conquered; they are home. 

It is time to move forward. 

In the Second Reading, Philippians 3:8-14, Paul reflects on the way his life has changed since Jesus knocked him off his horse on the way to Damascus one day. He now considers everything rubbish; he is willing to lose long as he has Jesus Christ. Paul, who was once so zealous for the Jewish Law, now realizes that the Law does not bring him the righteousness he craves. It does not save him. His righteousness and his salvation come through “faith in Christ, the righteousness from God...” Now he seeks to share Jesus' sufferings, to know the power of His resurrection, and, one day, to attain eternal life. He pushes on in hope, pursuing his goal, “forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead...” 

It is time to move forward. 

Today's Gospel, John 8:1-11, begins with Jesus teaching in the Temple area. The scribes and Pharisees soon arrive with a woman who has been caught in the very act of adultery. They remind Jesus that the Law of Moses calls for such a woman to be stoned, and they ask Him what He has to say about the matter. They are, of course, trying to test Him. If He tells them to go ahead and stone the woman, this would undermine His teaching on mercy and forgiveness. If He tells them to let her go, He will be violating the Law. They wait eagerly to hear His answer. 

Jesus bends down and writes on the ground. 

The scribes and Pharisees persist in their questioning, so Jesus straightens up and says, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” He bends once again and continues to write on the ground. 

One by one the scribes and Pharisees walk away until Jesus and the woman are alone. She says nothing, just stands before Him waiting to hear her fate. Jesus stands up and asks, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She replies, “No one, sir.” Jesus looks at her with love and says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” She is free. She is forgiven. 

It is time to move forward.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Fourth Sunday of Lent

The Prodigal Son: Points to Ponder 

1. When the younger son tells his father, “Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me,” he is essentially saying, “Father, you are dead to me. I don't care about you, but I want your property and your money.” This was an extremely disrespectful, hurtful thing for a son to tell his father. 

2. The father gives his son the money and allows him to go on his way. Jesus does not tell us that the father argues with his son or tries to change his mind. The father would have recognized the uselessness of such efforts. So despite the hurt, he lets the young man go. 

3. The son wastes everything...his entire inheritance. That shows a strong commitment to “a life of dissipation.” The Greek word for “dissipation” is asōtōs, which refers to a life spent in riotous excess. The word is an adverb that derives from the adjective asōtos, meaning not savable or abandoned. This young man is living a life of wild abandonment, a life that seems beyond salvation. 

4. Finally, with all his money gone, the son falls on hard times. He has nothing, no money, no family, no job, no income, no food, no friends, not even his self respect, for he has hired himself out to a local citizen, who sent him to tend the swine. He is as low as a young man can get. 

5. The young man is so hungry that he wants to eat the pigs' food, but no one gives him any. Why doesn't he just take some of these husks (probably edible pods from the carob tree)? Does he, even after all his sins, still have some sense of morality, some level of honor? 

6. Finally, the starving son decides to take some action. He remembers how his father's hired men had plenty to eat, so he decides to return to his father. He plans to go to him, acknowledge his sins, and take a new position in his father's household, not as a son but as a hired worker. Is the young man really sorry for his sins, or is he merely so hungry that he's forced to take the only action he can think of? Does he have mixed motives? 

7. The father must have been keeping watch for his son, for he notices him from a long way off. He has never given up the hope that he might someday return. 

8. The father runs to his son. This would have been shocking to Jesus' hearers. Distinguished adult men simply did not run. The father doesn't care what he looks like, for he has caught sight of his son. 

9. The father doesn't even wait for his son to speak. He is already filled with compassion. He embraces his son and kisses him. When the son finally gets out the words he has planned to say, the father completely ignores him. He is already ordering the servants to prepare for a welcome-home celebration. 

10. The older son is definitely peeved when he comes home to discover a party in honor of his brother well underway. He feels slighted, left out, like all his obedience and respect has been in vain. He will not even enter the house, so his father comes out and pleads with him. The father reminds his eldest son that everything he has is and has always been his son's, too, and he encourages him to recognize that his brother was once dead but now is alive, was lost but now is found. 

11. Does the older brother enter the house? Does his father finally convince him? What would you have done? 

12. Which character in the parable do you identify with the most? Why?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 39

Psalm 39 is all about perspective...perspective about life, about silence and speech, about trials, and about the true meaning of everything we do and everything we are. 

First, the psalmist offers some perspective about life. Life is fleeting, he says. We human beings are frail creatures. Our days are no longer than a “few handbreaths” in God's sight, almost nothing. “Surely everyone stands as a mere breath,” he notes twice. The psalmist asks God to make him aware of this. “Lord, let me know my end,” he begs, “and what is the measure of my days...” Knowing the shortness of his life, he can focus his attention not on the things of this life, those material things of the world that come and go easily and will not last into eternity, but on God. Life will pass away. Things will pass away. The days fly by. The years flow on. But God remains the same. He is greater than our lives, greater than this world, greater than even the greatest, fanciest, most expensive material thing. He is eternal. We must give our fragile lives to Him. 

Second, the psalmist reflects on silence and speech. At the beginning of the psalm, he says, “I will guard my ways that I may not sin with my tongue; I will keep a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence.” The psalmist recognizes that words are both powerful and much misinterpreted. They can be used to build up and tear down. They can both solve problems and create more problems. They can both sooth and inflame. The psalmist understands that people can easily sin with their words. Words can express lies, nastiness, and gossip. They can give voice to harsh criticism and unfair demands. Simply, words can hurt. 

Further, the psalmist grasps the fact that sometimes words are useless. He says that he was “still and silent” when he was with wicked people. He held his peace. He knew that his words would not change people who are set in their wicked ways. In fact, speech may only provoke them more. It is difficult, however, for the psalmist to refrain from speaking. He becomes distressed; a fire burns within him. He struggles to hold himself back, but when he finally bursts into speech, it is not a tirade directed toward the wicked but a prayer directed toward God. The psalmist knows how to make his words most to God.

Finally, the psalmist understands that patient silence is often the best response to troubles and trials. He doesn't complain. He doesn't waste his words in useless laments. Instead, he holds his tongue; he accepts God's will even though it is difficult. 

This brings us into the third theme upon which the psalmist offers perspective, namely, trials. Why do we have trials? According to the psalmist, God allows our trials as discipline. “You chastise mortals,” he tells God, “in punishment for sin.” We have all sinned. We all need to change. God doesn't want to hurt us. He's not a vengeful God that is out to get us so He can take pleasure in our pain. But He does want us to realize that we are sinners and then we need to turn back to Him. He wants us to realize that something is amiss in our lives. So He allows us to experience the results of our sin, to feel pain and loss, to be tired and weak. He allows such things so that we can understand that we are only human and humbly turn to Him for forgiveness and help. Only when we recognize our misery, only when we acknowledge our sin and weakness, only when we understand our helplessness, do we realize how much we need God. 

Indeed, this is the fourth point the psalmist makes: the meaning of life is God. Everything we have and everything we are find meaning only in God, Who created us and sustains us at every moment. If God stopped thinking about us for even an instant, we would simply cease to exist. Yet so often people forget that. The psalmist says, “Surely everyone goes about life like a shadow. Surely for nothing they are in turmoil; they heap up, and do not know who will gather.” People spend their lives in half darkness, grasping at fleeting wealth, power, and fame. They build up their fortunes, accumulate possessions, and vigorously try to increase their social standing. They worry about things that will not endure. They are constantly anxious about loosing the little bit they've gained and about not having enough. Their priorities are all messed up, and they suffer because of it. The psalmist, on the other hand, knows where he must turn. He says to God, “My hope is in You.” Everything rests on God, and the psalmist knows it. Only God gives meaning to life...not possessions, not fame, not wealth, not power. Only God. In Him is all our hope. In Him is all our salvation. In Him is all our true life, both now and in eternity. Our life here on earth lasts for only a little while. As the psalmist says, “For I am Your passing guest...” We must learn to set our hearts on God rather than the passing things of this world.

Life, silence, speech, trials, and true meaning. Psalm 39 is indeed all about perspective, God's perspective.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Little Something Extra...Third Sunday of Lent

The Little Fig Tree: A Story of Second Chances

Once upon a time in a far away place there lived a fig tree. The little tree lived in a lush orchard, surrounded by green and growing things that produced beautiful, ripe fruit every year at harvest time. 

But not the fig tree. 

It was stubborn. No matter how much the gardener pruned it, watered it, or fertilized it, no matter how much tender care he gave it, the fig tree would not bear fruit. It simply didn't want to be bothered. It had better things to do, like soak up the sun and rain and enjoy the rich soil. “Besides,” the fig tree thought, “bearing fruit does nothing for me. Everything I produce just goes to feed someone else anyway, so why should I bear any fruit at all?” 

One day the fig tree saw the gardener walking through the orchard with another man. It was the orchard's owner! The fig tree had seen him before when he had come to make his annual inspections. The two men stopped in front of the little tree, and the owner looked at it closely. He walked all around it, peering up into its branches from every angle. Then he sighed and shook his head. He turned to the gardener and said, “For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none.” 

The owner inspected the fig tree again. His expression was serious and a little perplexed as though he were trying to make a difficult decision. Finally, he turned to the gardener. “So cut it down,” he ordered with a little nod, “Why should it exhaust the soil?” 

The fig tree couldn't believe it. Cut it down! Cut ME down! Its branches began to tremble. 

The gardener gazed up at the fig tree. He seemed to notice its distress. After all, he had cared for it for three years, and he knew it well. “Sir,” he began, “leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.” 

The owner heard the note of pleading in the gardener's voice. He understood that the gardener had spent much time and effort tending the little fig tree. He considered for a moment and then gave the gardener a kind smile. “Do as you will,” he said. Then he moved on to continue his walk through the orchard. 

The gardener stood still for a moment before the little fig tree, which was still trembling, only now with relief. “You know what you must do,” the gardener mumbled to the tree. “I will help you, but the choice is yours.” 

The little fig tree did indeed know, and it vowed from that moment on to bear good fruit for the gardener who worked so hard and for the owner who had given it a second chance.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 32

Psalm 32 is all about the stupidity of stubbornness, the relief of confession, and the joy of forgiveness. It begins with happiness. “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” The Hebrew word for happy here, 'esher, can also mean blessed. Blessed, then, are those people whose transgressions (Hebrew pesha‛, also meaning revolt or rebellion) have been forgiven (Hebrew nâśâ', carried off, taken away, swept away) and whose sins (Hebrew chăṭâ'âh, offence) have been covered (Hebrew kâsâh, literally, filled up). Take note of a couple things here. The Hebrew nouns for transgression and sin imply deliberate wrongdoing. Those committing these transgressions and sins are doing so by choice. Further, the verbs in this verse are both in passive tense. Someone else is doing the forgiving and covering. Finally, the Hebrew verbs for these actions suggest a complete separation from sin through them. Transgressions are carried off or swept away. They are no longer clinging to the sinner; they have been removed. Forgiven sins are portrayed as empty places that have been filled up. This fits nicely with theological reflections that identify evil or sin as non-being or emptiness, as an absence of good, which is being and fullness. According to this definition, when a person sins, he or she says “no” to goodness and love and creates an empty hole, a chasm, that God, though His merciful forgiveness, wants to fill back up. 

The next verse continues to describe those who are happy or blessed: “Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” People are blessed when God takes away their guilt, when He wipes it away. He no longer charges them with their crimes. Also happy and blessed are the people who are true. These people are honest with themselves and with God. They know what they have done. They know who they are. They understand that they are not perfect, and they admit it. They realize they have rebelled and offended God, and they acknowledge it. They aren't trying to fool God...or themselves.

In the next few verses, the psalmist recalls a personal anecdote about sin and forgiveness. For some time, he was silent about his sin. He tried to keep it secret. He wouldn't admit his wrongdoing, and this preyed on him, both physically and mentally. He felt heavy, like his body was decaying. He groaned and moaned all day long. He could sense God's hand resting heavily upon him at all hours, reminding him of what he had done. He became weak and parched. Sin and guilt do that to a person. They eat at one's mind, chipping away at peace and joy, creating stress that can have ill effects on the body and mind. God doesn't want that for His children, so He leans on them, applying enough pressure so that they recognize Him and turn to Him. He does not want to squash anyone; He wants them to speak up so He can free them of the sin and guilt that are devouring them. 

Eventually, the psalmist gives in. He confesses his sins, owns his guilt, and places the whole mess before God. The Hebrew word for confess is yâdâh. It literally means to cast down or throw. By implication, then, it means throwing one's sins away from one's self, casting them out by bemoaning them to God.

And God forgave him. God carried away (nâśâ') the iniquity (Hebrew, ‛âvôn, guilt, evil, perversity, depravity) of his sin. It was gone. 

A priest once told a story about a person who was seeing visions of Jesus and receiving messages from Him. In order to test the reality of these experiences, the person's confessor told him to ask Jesus about a particular sin the confessor had once committed and confessed, for only Jesus would have known about this sin. The visionary did so, but Jesus responded that He didn't remember the sin. He had forgiven it long ago. It had been wiped away forever. 

The psalmist goes on to offer some good advice. If anyone is in distress, he should pray for God's forgiveness. He should confess his sins and have them removed from the situation. He should make sure that he is right with God. If he is, the psalmist implies, then the trials of life will be more bearable, “the rush of mighty waters shall not reach” him. His worldly troubles may not disappear, but the greatest disaster of all, separation from God, will not crash down upon him. 

In the next verse, the psalmist's advice turns to praise. “You are a hiding place for me;” he says to God. “You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with glad cries of deliverance.” God is a shelter for His children, a secret place where they can hide in safety from the torments of the enemy. God protects them, guarding them from their foes and encircling them with songs of rejoicing, for He has delivered them from those who wish to do them harm. This is a beautiful, hopeful portrait of a loving God Who will not allow His people to face their trials on their own. He gives them refuge and protection. He saves them, opening a way for them to escape from their troubles and turn their worries into shouts of joyful praise. 

In verses 8 and 9, the psalmist resumes a tone of instruction. “I will instruct you,” he tells his audience, “and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.” The psalmist has learned about confession and forgiveness through personal experience. He wants others to take advantage of this knowledge so they won't have to go through the same suffering he did when he was holding all his sin in his heart. I see your struggles, he seems to say. I've been there. I can give you good advice. It worked for me. Just listen and follow my path, and you, too, can have peace and friendship with God. 

The psalmist continues with a warning. Don't be stubborn. Don't be like a horse or a mule that needs to be bridled and led around. Approach God freely and humbly. Use the free will God gave you, but not as an excuse to run wild like an animal. Instead, use it in conjunction with your reason to make good decisions and remain always near Him. 

Verse 10 presents a contrast. The wicked, the psalmist asserts, will be subject to many torments (Hebrew mak'ôb, grief, sorrow, affliction), but those who trust in God will be surrounded by His “steadfast love.” God loves everyone, even those who do not love Him. But those who love God and place their confidence in Him will be better able to perceive His great love. They are open to it. They allow that love to surround them, comfort them, and uphold them. 

The psalm ends with an invitation to praise: “Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” Why should they rejoice? They have confessed their sins and been forgiven. Who has done this? God. What must we do then? Stop being stubborn; confess our sins; accept God's merciful forgiveness; and exult in His great love.