Whether your favorite crime solver is Sherlock Holmes, Perry Mason or Castle, the penultimate scene is almost always the same: the murderer maintains his or her innocence until presented with overwhelming evidence of his or her guilt. When all pretense has been stripped away, the guilty one finally confesses all.
This psalm has a title of sorts: "A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba." With a story about a poor man who had a single lamb (2 Samuel 12:1-7), Nathan masterfully induced David to pronounce judgment on himself for his lust, adultery, lies and murder.
On Ash Wednesday, we become David. The reality of our sin and sins is held up before us and we can no longer evade responsibility. With David, we pray...
"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, for I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me." Amen.
Psalm 51:1-17 (NRSV)
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against 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.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt offering, you would not be pleased.
17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.