Tag Archives: David

December 17: The Tree of Jesse

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Tree of Jesse, Chartres Cathedral

From December 17th until Christmas, we read on weekdays from the infancy narratives  of Matthew and Luke to prepare for the  Christmas feast.

Today the gospel is  Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ, tracing his ancestry as “the son of David and the son of Abraham.” Jesus descent from Abraham fulfilled the promise God made to him: “in your descendants all nations would be blessed,” As a descendant of David, Jesus is a royal Messiah.

Matthew’s genealogy offers a Messiah whom Jew and Gentile can claim for their  Savior. His roots are worldwide, his ancestors reach beyond Palestine.

He’s not just a Jewish Messiah in Matthew’s listing. His bloodline includes women like Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba– foreigners, but also women with questionable backgrounds. In his humanity,  Jesus didn’t come from perfect ancestors or untainted Jewish royalty ; he’s rooted in all humanity. His bloodline includes saints and sinners, or can we say he comes from a line of sinners and some saints? He shares our human DNA.

Matthew in his gospel obviously wants us to look at Jesus’ family tree and see it as our own. We can be at home there. The Tree of Jesse, based on Matthew’s genealogy  was a favorite subject for medieval artists working on illuminated manuscripts or creating stained glass windows for churches. A great way to see the humanity of Jesus Christ.

Luke in his genealogy goes further and sees Jesus beyond Abraham, as descended from Adam. He becomes the new Adam. We are born from his side, we share his blood; he is the first born of many like us. So we pray in today’s opening prayer:

“O God, Creator and Redeemer of human nature…your Only Begotten Son, having taken to himself our humanity, may you be pleased to grant us a share in his divinity.” (Collect)

O Wisdom of our God Most High,
guiding creation with power and love:
come to teach us the path of knowledge!

Be Merciful, O Lord, For We Have Sinned


David penitentBecause Jesus is often called “Son of David” in the New Testament and so many of the psalm we say are attributed to David, we may tend to idealize the great king, an important figure in Jewish history. David is credited with uniting the tribes of Israel and establishing a nation with its capitol in Jerusalem. Jesus himself appealed to David’s example when his enemies accused his hungry disciples of eating grain on the Sabbath.

Yet, the long narrative we read in the Book of Samuel today and tomorrow at Mass offers a darker picture of the famous king– he was a murderer and an adulterer. David had Urriah the Hittite, a faithful soldier in his army, killed so that he could have Bathsheba, his wife. (2 Samuel 11, 1-17)

Psalm 51 is the response we make at Mass after listening to the king’s sordid deed. Tradition says it’s David’s own response when he realized what he had done. The Book of Psalms calls Psalm 51: “A psalm of David when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
And of my sin cleanse me.”

The psalm, the first of the Seven Penitential Psalms, asks God to take away both the personal and social effects of our sin, for our sins do indeed have emotional, physical and social consequences. Only God can “wash away” our guilt and cleanse our heart. Only God can “rebuild” the walls that our sins have torn down and the lives they have harmed. Only God can restore joy to our spirits and help us “teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.” Only God can bring us back to his friendship.

In the scriptures, David is a complex figure– a saint and a sinner. He’s really a reflection of us all. That’s why our response in the psalm at Mass today takes the form that it does –

“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”

Does God Care Who Leads Us?

Watching the fierce battles in our political world we ask: Does God care who leads us?

Today’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Samuel at Mass says God does. “Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way,” God says to Samuel, “I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have chosen my king from among his sons.”

Samuel goes through all of Jesse’s sons, but none fit the bill. “Not him, not him, not him,” God says as one after another are brought to Samuel. “Are these all the sons you have?” Samuel asks,

Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”

“Send for him,” Samuel says, “we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.” So David is brought to them, ” ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance.”

The LORD said, “There–anoint him, for this is he!”

Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers;                       ‘and from that day on, the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.” (I Samuel 16,1-13)

“Anoint him, there he is,” God says, and the prophet pours the horn of olive oil on David. What does the oil signify? A power not his own, a power that is God’s grace, to lead his people. You need grace to lead.

We’re told to pray that our leaders receive God’s grace.

We Need Prophets

We’re reading the Books of Samuel  and other “historical” books of the Old Testament at Mass. The readings are wise commentaries on church and state.

We need prophets, they say, but sometimes those you expect to be prophetic don’t seem up to the task, like Eli the old priest in the sleepy temple at Shilo, who misinterprets  Hannah praying for a son and is slow to see his potential successor in Samuel,

The Israelites, split as they were at the time into tribes and clans, need a prophet.  The Philistines smashed them to pieces and took away the Ark of the Covenant. The Israelites scatter; every man flees “to his own tent.” In bad times the temptation is always to flee to your own tent.

Then, they begin asking for a king. Let’s get a king, an army, a strategic battle plan. “That’s not going to save you,” Samuel says, ”In fact, kings, and armies and strategic battle plans can so absorb your attention that you can miss hearing the Word of God.”

One message running through the historical books of the Old Testament is that we need prophets to revitalize both our religious institutions and our political institutions. Our parishes, our dioceses, our religious communities can become sleepy places. “Boring, boring” people say.

That same complaint can be leveled against our political institutions. David is like a Jewish George Washington, but he needs prophets like Samuel to inspire him and prophets like Nathan to correct him. Without the prophets, the people perish.

It seems that Pope Francis is taking on that role for our church and our world today.

11th Sunday C: The Mercy of God

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:

This Sunday there are two stories about forgiveness in our liturgy at Mass. From the Second Book of Samuel we hear the story of King David whose sin is pointed out to him and then declared forgiven by the prophet Nathan. The gospel reading from Luke tells the story of Jesus forgiving a sinful woman in the house of a Pharisee, who can’t seem to believe in forgiveness when he sees it.

The two stories complement each other. They remind us that forgiveness is not a simple matter; it’s a mysterious gift of God.

King David’s sins are well known and nothing to be proud of. He lusts after Bathsheba, the wife of Urriah, one of his officers. When David fails to disguise his adultery, he arranges to have Urriah killed and then marries his wife. The king’s sins are more than sins of lust or murder; his sin is an abuse of power. David’s the king, with absolute power over his subjects, answerable to no one, he thinks. He can do anything he wants and no one stands in his way. Unfortunately, he’s lost a sense of guilt; his conscience doesn’t bother him. He’s a king who can do no wrong.

Notice, though, that David recognizes sin and injustice in others. When the prophet Nathan tells him the story of someone who robs a poor man of his precious lamb, David immediately wants to right the wrong. Nathan says “ You are that man.” But David’s blind to his own sin, and so the prophet must awaken him to see what he has done. If you’re blind to sin, how can you be forgiven?

Finally, David admits; “‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ Nathan answered David: ‘The LORD on his part has forgiven your sin, you shall not die.’”

Now, the woman in Luke’s gospel who goes to the house of the Pharisee, unlike David, knows she’s a sinner and rejoices in the forgiveness she finds in Jesus. She expresses herself with that extravagant gesture of love. “Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind Jesus at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment.”

In Luke’s story, it’s the Pharisee who’s blind. He can’t see forgiveness or the love behind it. He’s blind to God’s love, first of all, welcoming the sinner, and to the woman’s love that comes from being loved so much. He doesn’t seem to think forgiveness exists and he doesn’t understand it.

Simon, the Pharisee in our story, is like the Pharisee in Luke’s parable about the two men praying in the temple. He sees himself “unlike the rest of humanity, greedy, dishonest, adulterous.” He’s too good to need forgiveness. His blindness comes from self-righteousness.

Luke’s gospel is filled with sinners. Let’s be like them: the sinful woman, the prodigal son, the tax-collector Zacchaeus. They all recognize they’re sinners and they end up rejoicing at a banquet. They enjoy the mercy of God.

“Absalom, Absalom, my son”

Stories from the Old Testament often have a raw quality that may cause us to turn away from them. They may not seem uplifting; too much murder, rape, lies and disloyalty in them, we say.

After the Prophet Nathan accuses David of his sins of murder and adultery, he tells him “the sword shall never depart from your house.” (2 Samuel 12, 10) In our first reading today at Mass the prophet’s message is fulfilled. David’s son Absalom  betrays his father and tries to take his throne. (2 Samuel 15, 13 ff) All that’s said about Absalom points him out as a bad kid.

“An informant came to David with the report, ‘The children of Israel have transferred their loyalty to Absalom.’” David flees from Jerusalem to escape Absalom and his army; he crosses the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives and then heads for the wilderness around the Jordan River for safety.

Jesus came to Jerusalem by that same route, we remember. He also crossed the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives to pray as he faced betrayal and death.

David’s advisors want him to kill his scheming son, but David refuses, because of his deep love for him. He becomes inconsolable when the young man meets a tragic death. “Absalom, Absalom, my son!” His love seems unexplainable.

And so is the love of Jesus, unexplainable.

Jesus, Son of David

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Don’t miss the Old Testament readings near Christmas telling us about the mystery we celebrate.

In today’s reading from the Book of Samuel King David says to the Prophet Nathan that he’s going to build God a kingly palace like his own in place of the tent where the ark of the covenant was being lodged. It’s the right thing to do. Like the grand palace in the picture above.

But God says in reply: “Should you build me a house to dwell in? I took you from the pasture and from the care of the flock to be commander of my people Israel.I have been with you wherever you went.” God chooses a poor stable to dwell in, when he comes.

Hard to find the door to a palace. Easy to find our way into a stable.

Even more,

“The LORD also reveals to you

that he will establish a house for you.

And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors,

I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins,

and I will make his Kingdom firm.

I will be a father to him,

and he shall be a son to me.

Your house and your Kingdom shall endure forever before me;

your throne shall stand firm forever.’” (2 Samuel 7)

In this great prophecy, called the “Dynastic Oracle,” God promises to be with David and his descendants forever. God will give him an heir whose kingdom will be firm. “I will be a father to him and he a son to me.”

How often in the gospels Jesus is called “Son of David.” He is no passing visitor, come and gone. His kingdom endures; his throne stands forever.