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The Everyday Prayer

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Icon of the Holy Face
Church of Sant'Egidio, Rome

Reading of the Word of God

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You are a chosen race,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation,
a people acquired by God
to proclaim his marvellous works.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

2 Samuel 24,2.9-17

The king said to Joab and the senior army officers who were with him, 'Now, go through all the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba, and take a census of the people; I wish to know the size of the population.' Joab gave the king the census results for the people; Israel had eight hundred thousand fighting men who could wield a sword, and Judah five hundred thousand. But afterwards David's heart misgave him for having taken a census of the people. David then said to Yahweh, 'I have committed a grave sin by doing this. But now, Yahweh, I beg you to forgive your servant for this fault, for I have acted very foolishly.' When, however, David got up next morning, the following message had come from Yahweh to the prophet Gad, David's seer, 'Go and say to David, "Yahweh says this: I offer you three things; choose which one of them I am to inflict on you." ' So Gad went to David and said, 'Which do you prefer: to have three years of famine befall your country; to flee for three months before a pursuing army; or to have three days of epidemic in your country? Now think, and decide how I am to answer him who sends me.' David said to Gad, 'I am very apprehensive . . . Better to fall into Yahweh's hands, since his mercies are great, than to fall into the hands of men!' So David chose the epidemic. It was the time of the wheat harvest. So Yahweh unleashed an epidemic on Israel from that morning until the time determined; plague ravaged the people and, of the people from Dan to Beersheba, seventy thousand died. But when the angel stretched his hand towards Jerusalem to destroy it, Yahweh felt sorry about the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, 'Enough now! Hold your hand!' The angel of Yahweh was standing by the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite. When David saw the angel who was ravaging the people, he said to Yahweh, 'I was the one who sinned. I was the one who acted wrongly. But these, the flock, what have they done? Let your hand lie heavy on me and on my family!'


Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

You will be holy,
because I am holy, thus says the Lord.

Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia

The passage reports the first census taken in Israel after the establishment of the monarchy. David wanted to test the political and social stability of his kingdom. And indeed census results seem to prove him right. But David’s distrust in the Lord lurks right in the search for an objective stability. The text opens with the notation: "Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them" (v. 1). The author does not give the reason for God’s anger; he emphasizes that it is God himself who incites David to take a census and go against the people. The statement "incited David" is to be understood in the ancient Semitic conception in which everything was traced directly to God, even temptations. The clearest example is found in Job, when we read that Satan asks God for permission to test Job and God bestows it. (Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6). This way of presenting not only avoids the temptation to think that God is at the source of evil, but it shows that in allowing the temptation, God wants to show that with his help that he never fails to provide men and women, they can defeat the tempter. David then orders a census to be taken, which apparently seems not only justifiable, but also a wise administrative measure, because it allowed a more adequate organization of the kingdom. However, unlike the two censuses prescribed by God at the time of the exodus, that of David, has the full weight of a reprehensible challenge of power. The decision to count diligently his soldiers, his taxpayers, and his subjects shows that David relies more on his own strength and means than on divine strength and providence. This is why, as soon as the census is completed, "David was stricken to the heart because he had numbered the people. David said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly’’’ (v.10). The prophet Gad, in the name of God, announce a very severe sanction for what happened (vv. 11-13). David, once again, shows the poverty of his faith, even if it appears covered with wisdom. In truth it was folly more than wisdom. Certainly God asks that we make every effort to care for his people, but only with the wisdom that is rooted in the "fear of God", that is, in total confidence in him. Aware of our misery, we realize that only this wisdom is really strong and wise. David finally understands that the strength of the people Lord has entrusted to him lies not only in numbers but only in faith in the Lord.

Memory of the Saints and the Prophets