Today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures is part of the Second Book of Samuel that is really an appendix. In the last four chapters or appendix, the sacred writers include material that does not fit into the chronology of David’s life. They included it for its message rather than for its ability to fit into the timeline.
Taking a census is not in itself a bad thing. So we must look to the motivation for the census to understand why it would anger God. It basically comes down to putting one’s trust in human resources rather than in God’s providential care. Censuses were taken for a variety of reasons. When preparing for war, the king needed to know how big an army he could muster. When mounting a building project, the king would need to know how much he could expect by way of taxes. There is also the possibility that a king could take a census simply to make himself look grander than he really was.
Whatever David’s motivation, God did not look kindly on the census and visited a punishment on the kingdom. However, David, realizing his guilt, confesses his sin and thus stays God’s wrath from completely devastating the people and their crops.
This last lesson from the Second Book of Samuel reminds us of the theology behind the histories. God remains faithful to the people of Israel. The same cannot be said of them. The sacred writers use the various infidelities as a way to explain the natural disasters that occurred.
This kind of thinking is, however, completely repudiated in the Gospels. Jesus stands as an example of fidelity yet bears the punishment for our sins. God’s love is not capricious. God remains faithful even in the face of our infidelity. The Eucharist is proof of that faithful love. God remains with us no matter how far we stray. All the more reason for us to hearken to the words of the Gospel to repent and turn toward God.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator