Holy Week 2024: Jesus and David Part 3 – Forgiving and Forgiven


Holy Week 2024: Jesus and David Part 3 – Forgiving and Forgiven

Published: 3rd April, 2024

In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

This week we commemorate the solemn events that had as their end and purpose the redemption of humanity through humanity itself. In Jesus Christ, truly divine and truly human, human nature is both redeemed and redeeming. Humanity is united with the Godhead, and is offered as a sacrifice once for all, that all may share in this redemption.

This week we are reflecting on the place of David within the story of our redemption. We have reflected on David’s humility finding its fulfilment in Jesus’ self-emptying humility; we have reflected on David’s anointing and filling with the Holy Spirit finding its fulfilment in Jesus’ anointing by the Holy Spirit at His baptism. Today we reflect on two episodes in the life of David that point to the possibility of a redeemed humanity. These episodes have in common the theme of forgiveness: in the first, David forgives and shows mercy; in the second, David is himself forgiven.

A reading from the First Book of Samuel

When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the wilderness of En-gedi.”  Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel and went to look for David and his men in the direction of the Rocks of the Wild Goats.  He came to the sheepfolds beside the road, where there was a cave, and Saul went in to relieve himself.  Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave.  The men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, ‘I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.’” Then David went and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak.  Afterward David was stricken to the heart because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak.  He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to raise my hand against him, for he is the Lord’s anointed.”  So David rebuked his men severely and did not permit them to attack Saul. Then Saul got up and left the cave and went on his way. [1 Samuel 24.1-7]

Perhaps it’s worth giving just a little background to this story. After defeating Goliath, David goes on to be a military leader in Saul’s armies, and a very successful one. Saul becomes jealous and turns against David, and David flees, gathering a band of outlaws around him. A long game of cat and mouse ensues. In the reading we’ve just heard, Saul is looking for David, but David is the one to find Saul. And David shows mercy to Saul, refusing to kill the man who wants to take his life.

It is impossible for a Christian to read this story without being put in mind of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. We are well used to the idea that we should love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us; in the days of David and Saul this idea was not commonplace, if it existed at all: as Saul himself goes on to say, “who has ever found an enemy and sent the enemy safely away?” David has done a remarkable thing, prefiguring the teaching of forgiveness and mercy that would be fully revealed in the preaching of Jesus.

Jesus’ preaching of forgiveness is at the very heart of the story of our redemption. The Cross that was the means of our redemption is surely the greatest single crime in human history: the killing by crucifixion of the Son of God, the One who is without sin, the One who is light and life, the One by Whom all things were made – this is an appalling act of evil. And yet Jesus says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”, and this wicked act is transformed from a crime demanding justice into a means of grace and salvation for all.

By extending forgiveness and mercy to Saul, David, however briefly, breaks the cycle of violence and retribution that runs throughout the Old Testament. A window is opened, even if only just a chink, on the possibility of a different kind of humanity and a different kind of world; a window that is thrust wide open in the life and teaching and death and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

A reading from the Second Book of Samuel

…and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb that he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meagre fare and drink from his cup and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.  Now there came a traveller to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”  Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold because he did this thing and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your bosom and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah, and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.  Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.

David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. [2 Samuel 12.1-9, 13]

Here we have a very different story, the story of David and Bathsheba. The parable told by Nathan the Prophet sets out the nature of David’s sin very clearly, and David stands condemned out of his own mouth. And so David acknowledges his guilt before Nathan and before God.

This story is closely associated with Psalm 51, the best known of the seven penitential psalms, used in the Church’s worship on Ash Wednesday. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions”.

Through Jesus’ connection with David and his dynasty we see once again how Jesus humbles Himself to take the place of sinners. David is a warrior and a man of blood; the Lord forbids him to build him a temple because he has shed too much blood upon the earth in his sight. And David is not only a man of blood but an adulterer too, and his dynasty is deeply compromised almost from the beginning by David’s sin.

But David’s forgiveness by God also prefigures the forgiveness and reconciliation offered to us through Jesus: offered to us by Jesus putting Himself in the place of sinners and so making us acceptable to God; offered to us by Jesus recapitulating human life and triumphing over the temptations of violence and sex and greed and luxury to which even the best of us repeatedly succumb; offered to us by Jesus shedding His own blood once for all upon the Cross, to whom with the +Father and the Holy Spirit be all praise and glory, now and unto ages of ages. Amen.