Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Many of us often misunderstand Jesus’ famous last words in Matthew’s gospel. I know that as a youth, I always thought that Jesus was crying out in desperation, wanting the Father to come save him. I’ve heard many different other views about this exclamation as well: that Jesus was reacting to his pain and suffering, that Jesus “lost faith” in his Father, or even that Jesus was cursing against the Father. But since then, I’ve learned that Jesus is actually quoting Psalm 22 on the cross, which happens to be a Messianic prophecy:
My God, my God,
why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day,
but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest… (1-2)
…But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone,
despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him…” (6-8)
…Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help. (11)
Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me. (16-19)
-Excerpts from Psalm 22-
In quoting this Psalm, Matthew’s Jesus is identifying with the prophetic image of being scorned, despised, mocked, insulted, and taunted. In these short few words, Jesus is affirming his utter rejection, his utmost isolation and abandonment by all of humanity. He affirms that He is completely and utterly alone on the cross, bearing the weight of all of our sin and brokenness.
When Jesus cries out to the Father in this Psalm, he’s not declaring a loss of faith; he is declaring that he is utterly alone, and He is asking the Father for strength to bear the cross: “But you, Lord, do not be far from me. You are my strength, come quickly to help me (Ps 22:19).”
Today is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ’s suffering and death on the cross. Today is a day of mourning – we mourn for our sins, for repeatedly denying Christ by our lifestyles, for joining with the world in yelling “Crucify him!” by our actions and attitudes. Today we grieve that we are sinners desperately in need of grace and mercy.
But today is not the end – Sunday we celebrate the resurrection of Christ in victory over sin, and we share in his redemption for our transgressions. Likewise, the Psalm that begins “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” also has a different ending:
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
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