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Understanding Psalm 51

Understanding Psalm 51 in light of a metaphor.

By: Deacon Joseph A. Pasquella of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buffalo. 

As a forever student of Holy Scripture, I am always looking for ways to make the Word of God living and real in my own heart and understanding, through teaching, preaching at Mass and other venues, and when giving spiritual direction, I try to do bring these truths to light for others.

The goal of a professional preacher/teacher is to convey the Scriptures and the Eternal Truths in every day language so that ordinary people can understand them. Find a metaphor that meets you where you are, especially when we're talking about something as personal as confession.

Therefore when pondering Psalm 51 the metaphor I used was that of computer parlance in the paraphrasing of the verses.
Psalm 51

1. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.


Paraphrase: O, Creator and Sustainer of Everything, I have totally screwed up. Bad. Your love is as sure as the sunrise. Every morning, Your Love rises fresh and new and limitless. I need that now, and it’s my own fault. Please, please God of All, hit Your cosmic delete key and clear my recent entry! Your justice would rightly crush me. Now, my only hope is Your mercy.

2. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.


Para: Don’t just clear the screen—clear my hard drive! Get my own wrong doing off of my laptop screen, outta my laptop, outta my house, outta my life!

3. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.


Para: I know I was absolutely wrong. I can’t get that picture of my own wrong doing off of my screen-saver. It’s always there—every time I power up, it’s there, not just upon me, but within 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.


Para: You have made it crystal clear that I should never have done what I did. I knew it was wrong. But I did it anyway. And I enjoyed every minute, taking my own pleasure out of someone else’s pain. That was wrong. I did it. I inflicted pain and drew out pleasure. I know what the penalty is. You would be entirely right in imposing that full penalty upon me.

5. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.


Para: I was born not knowing You. I was born, not knowing how to please You. But You taught me. Then, when I knew what Your will was, I deliberately broke it. Because, I was born with a deeper desire, rather than to please You, to please myself. When my mother gave me birth and first wrapped me with fabric—I was already set on self-pleasure (due to original sin).

Sin, Psalms, and Prayers Part II B Psalm 51: 6-11

6a You desire truth in the inward being; 

Paraphrase: You take pleasure in a stable, certain, solid, reliable and trustworthy relationship with me. You take pleasure in “solid ground” of the center of my mind, my emotions, and my intellect. It pleases You to stand on the solid ground within me, to meet me there, and to enjoy my company. But I pretended You would pitch your tent on a fault line, a swamp of my own making, a fault in my heart.

6b Therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Para: In the center of me, that quiet place apart from any other, teach me what to do.In that place, hidden away from all else, teach me what to do. In that innermost place, through the darkness of me is the shekinah, the glorious light of You. As I enter into that place where You already are, teach me what to do.

7. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Para: I am dirty, inside. I have always been dirty, inside. Wash me, inside. Take away the dirt, the stench, the wrong inside me. Let me bask in your pure light, as the snow glistens and reflects the sun’s light.

8. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.


Para: Make me hear the Your voice of forgiveness. The weight of my sin crushes me. I cannot bear it. I writhe in anguish and sorrow. I

9. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

cannot bear to hear Your anger, Your just condemnation, disgust in Your voice of just judgment. How I long to hear the sweet and tender voice of Your forgiveness and the kindness of Your pardon! Heal what my sin and Your right judgment crushed in me.

Para: Don’t even look at me! The filth of my wrongs ought not be seen by You. I cannot wash my own face. I cannot clean up my own act. I don’t deserve Your mercy but, I beg you, delete my wrongs.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Para: Give me the heart I never had, the heart to love You more than me. Give me a strong and solid heart, a heart preoccupied with pleasing You. Make my heart solid and pure and proper. My wrong heart distracted even my spirit in me and directed me away from You. Repair it. Refocus it. De-frag it and re-boot it.

11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

Para: Don’t leave me here, alone. Don’t kick me to the curb only to be carted off to the dump. I cannot be happy without You. I cannot be whole, alone. Don’t block me or de-friend me or drop me from Your speed-dial.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

Paraphrase: Let me experience again that warm and tingling joy which anticipates Your presence. Let me laugh and sing and dance again with You. Let me celebrate, once again, Your comfort, Your peace, and Your presence. Restore my spirit in me. I have fallen—catch me before I go over the edge!

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

Para: I will do my part. In response to Your mercy, I will use my experience as a warning to others of the horridness of sin. I will display the just consequences of my wrong. I will display the substance of real repentance. Men who do wrong will look at me and know that You are right in exercising the penalty against me. And, they will see the power of Your mercy.

The wise man knows: “The best preparation for success in winning souls to

14 Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.

Para: I, David who has written this plea, am responsible for the death of a good man. I am responsible for the death of my baby, born of my coveting that good man’s wife. The fact will not change. My crime will not change.


But You, O Ultimate Goodness, Creator of my wholeness, can change the weight of my guilt! Relieve me of the weight of my wrongs  and I will constantly sing out the virtue of Your merciful kindness. I will persistently praise You for giving me mercy, the reason for my song.

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. 

Para: If you wanted me to sacrifice a bull upon Your altar, I would do it. But that’s not what You want. A visible symbol, a token speech, an outward appearance of regret won’t get it this time. You require more than that of me. You require the crushing and grinding to dust of my wrong, the breaking of my selfish heart, and the re-making of a pure heart. To You, my heart speaks louder then my actions.

17 The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

NOTE: As the anointed King of Israel, the Shepherd of God’s people, Israel, David closes his confession with a prayer for his charge, his responsibility, in acknowledgment of his duty before God. Your charge might be your family, your kids, your business--it's a responsibility bigger than yourself, and outside yourself. Here, David prays for Israel to be a source of continuing pleasure for God.

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem,

19 then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

Para: Make the sacred city, the Jerusalem in me, strong again. Make the sacred city, Jerusalem around me, strong again. Then, see all the offerings of Your people as our recognition that You are the Source and Sustainer of Everything. Everything we are, everything we have ... ultimately comes from You. You are the Greater. You see all the offerings of Your people as our recognition that You are the Source and Sustainer of Everything. Everything we are, everything we have ... ultimately comes from You. You are the Greater Then Which, There is None.

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