Skip to content

Crime and punishment

by davesandel on March 3rd, 2021

Friday, February 26, 2021                   (today’s lectionary)

Crime and punishment

If the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil, can he do this and still live? He has broken faith and committed sin; because of this, he shall die.

What is there to say before, during and after the crime? As Dostoevsky said through Raskolnikov, “Man has it all in his hands, and it all slips through his fingers from sheer cowardice.” Commit a crime, then consider the crime, and know that “the man with a conscience suffers while acknowledging his sin. That is his punishment, and his prison.”

In his confession before Nathan of his adultery with Bathsheba, David said to God, “Against you, against you only have I sinned.” But David seduced and raped a woman, destroyed her family and had her husband killed. Couldn’t he acknowledge his sin against them? He sinned against them as well.

But David’s primary allegiance was always to Yahweh. His moral choices often confused those around him, especially those with shallow relationships to God. David seemed to listen to God’s directives with an inner ear. And when he closed his ears, although his sin affected many, it was God he no longer heard. It was God that he ignored. “Against you, O Lord, against you only have I sinned.”

Cast away from you, says the Lord. Cast away from you all your crimes, and make for yourself a new heart and a new spirit.

Can I make these for myself? I cannot! Is this only my cowardice speaking? God, I need you to mold me and shape me. If I turn my ear to you and hear your voice, then I know your direction in my mind and your abiding love for me deep within my soul. But you say I have “broken faith and committed sin,” and I know that’s true. I have stopped listening, just as David did.  

If the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die.

Yet when my ears are closed, I don’t even know what is “right and just.” Open my ears, Lord, sensitize my hardened ancient conscience, let me know how near you are, whispering and sometimes even shouting in my ears and still I don’t listen. All I hear is noise, clanging gongs and jarring cymbals. Like I’ve vacationed at the Tower of Babel and after I return I hear only gibberish. O God, I am lost. I no longer know you, I no longer know myself. Cast me not from thy presence!

I think of a poem written by my friend Clarence Heller, a poem he called “Bread Crumbs.”

I’ve stopped writing down how I’m feeling.

I’ve stopped making time in silence to listen.

Yet I feel lost and overwhelmed,

out of the flow of the Spirit,

out of the sacred rhythm of life.

And I don’t even remember what I’ve forgotten,

and I don’t even know what I don’t know.

So Dear One, if I have lost my way, please find me.

If I am on the path, please let me know.

I must begin to speak with you again, O God. Open my mouth and open my ears and show me how to stop pretending you are far away. You are as close as the breath inside my left nostril, and then my right. Your touch quickens the skin on my arms, and there is a prickling on my scalp. I run my fingers through my hair, and you are there.

Why am I struck dumb? Don’t I know you love me? Can I begin to trust again that in your mercy my life is not gone, ruined, an abandoned hull standing up shipwrecked in the black sea? I need your words now more than ever, Lord. Let me be still, be still. Be still.

My soul trusts in your word, O Lord. My soul waits for you, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

(Ezekiel 18, Psalm 130, Matthew 5)


Print Friendly, PDF & Email
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Note: XHTML is allowed. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: