Today in the traditional calendar, it is the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, and we are given to read about King David’s sin and subsequent repentance. Two words caught my attention last evening as we sang the antiphon for first vespers: insipienter egi — I have acted foolishly. With those words David describes his own actions with regard to Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. I have acted foolishly, I have acted as a fool…
Is that not what happens in every sin? Is not every sin a moment of folly, in which we leave aside the light of reason and cast ourselves headlong into an action that is going to have dire consequences on us and on others? When you stop to think of all that God had done for David (which He Himself reminds David of through the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12), how He had taken him from his lowly origins, saved him from the wrath of Saul and from all his enemies and had established him king of Judah, how also he already had several wives, etc., his action can only be described as an act of folly. It is as if David had momentarily lost the use of reason.
But if sin is folly, then how can it be imputable to us? If we go crazy when we are tempted, are we really responsible? And in that case, are we not just like other animals that follow their instincts without considering the possible consequences? Such is the language of modern materialists and evolutionists who would have us believe that we are just the product of blind evolution in a universe without meaning. The problem with that is it does not explain the order of the universe, nor the reality of the human conscience and human liability before others. If we are just sophisticated animals subject to our passions over which we have no say, then why is their justice and prosecution and retribution even in this life? It does not make sense.
The reality is elsewhere. And this reality is summarised by St Benedict in the first kind of humility when he says: “We must be on our guard against evil desires, for death lies close by the gate of delight”. Death lies close by the gate of delight. Pause a moment to consider what that means: Death lies close by the gate of delight. The gate of our soul is whatever comes to us through the senses. It might be something we have seen or heard or smelt or felt; it may be a thought put into our minds by our fallen nature prone to sin because of concupiscence or by the devil himself. Whatever the case, there is an entrance into our soul, and that entrance can never be forced: the door is opened only from the inside. When the saint says that death lies close by the gate of delight, he is trying to get across the supreme importance of keeping watch at that gate, for there are some passions that, once we have let them in, almost inevitably lead us to mortal sin.
That is what happened to David. He saw this gorgeous woman bathing on the opposite balcony in the heat of the day and, instead of turning away his gaze, of busying himself as he should have with healthy work, he opened wide the gate of his eyes, the evil desire entered and took possession of his heart, and led him not only to a shameful act of adultery with a woman whose husband was risking his life on the front defending the king, but even to the almost unbelievably treacherous dirty business of having this valiant man killed in order to cover up his own licentiousness! Dear Lord! What a shameful deed accomplished by a man who had been so gifted by God…. A terrible lesson for us, for all men. It matters not how much we may have already done for God, nor how many years we may have been in His service: we remain weak men, subject to temptation, and we must set a constant guard at the gate of our heart.
That gate is most often violated through the path of the eyes, as we can see here with King David. Which also brings up the question of Bathsheba: what was she doing bathing in a place where she knew she could be seen by the king? It is hardly conceivable that this was a purely innocent action. Whatever the case, it points out the importance of modesty in dress and the grave responsibility women in particular have in this realm. It is true that men too must be modest, but it is a fact that the chastity of men is greatly imperilled by the immodesty of women.
At the same time, this history reminds us of the responsibility we have of making good moral choices, and of the effect these choices have on the world. One's man's sin can be the cause of great disasters — as the next chapters of the Bible show us in the life of King David. But one man's virtue is also a tremendous grace for an entire people, even for the entire world.
Let us ask King Saint David to obtain for us the grace of salutary repentance and of atoning for our sins by willingly accepting the hardships that come our way. If we do so, even the dark pages of our lives can be transformed by Divine Grace, and can be an encouragement to others of what it is possible to do for God in this short life we have to live. Let us live it wisely, not foolishly!