During Holy Week, I’m continuing to ponder the seven last words of Jesus. These seven words spoken on the cross are gathered from the four gospels. Today’s words are found in both the gospels of Matthew and Mark: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
As others have pointed out, this one sentence is the only thing Matthew and Mark write about concerning what Jesus said while dying on the cross. I think this is significant in that these gospel writers viewed Jesus as being utterly forsaken by all while being crucified. Even God, Jesus’ Father, seems to have let him down.
Biblical scholars say that Jesus may have been attempting to pray Psalm 22, which begins like this:
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help,
from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer;
by night, but I have no relief.
In Matthew and Mark, all those passing by the cross on their way are mocking Jesus, including the chief priests, the scribes, and elders. “He saved others, yet he is powerless to save himself!” “He said he was God’s Son–let’s see him prove it! Come down off that cross, Jesus, if you are really the Son of God!” The criminals being crucified taunt Jesus. (No “good thief” here!) Even Jesus’ followers–mostly women followers, it seems–are standing in the distance, unwilling or unable to come close to Jesus as he is suffering.
Although the rest of Psalm 22 does not appear in Matthew and Mark, I think it likely that the earliest readers would have recalled the rest of the psalm, including these words:
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted and you rescued them.
To you they cried out and they escaped;
in you they trusted and were not disappointed.
But I am a worm, not a man,
scorned by men, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they curl their lips and jeer;
they shake their heads at me:
“He relied on the Lord—let him deliver him;
if he loves him, let him rescue him.”
Jesus does not recite the entire psalm–he is too filled with pain, and besides, crucifixion steals the breath away by slowly suffocating people.
But Matthew and Mark clearly want us to see Jesus as the fulfillment of Psalm 22. Jesus feels totally forsaken, totally abandoned by all as he is dying.
And yet… there is more.
Even though Jesus felt abandoned by God, it is God who will ultimately save him. Later in the text, Psalm 22 turns from the message of abandonment and alienation to one of hope in God:
You who fear the Lord, give praise!
All descendants of Jacob, give honor;
show reverence, all descendants of Israel!
For he has not spurned or disdained
the misery of this poor wretch,
Did not turn away from me,
but heard me when I cried out.
I will offer praise in the great assembly;
my vows I will fulfill before those who fear him.
The poor will eat their fill;
those who seek the Lord will offer praise.
” May your hearts enjoy life forever!”
“May your hearts enjoy life forever!” Although Jesus cannot feel this during his death and descent into Sheol, the ultimate long-term gift of God will be life forever.
The next time you or I feel hurt, forsaken, or abandoned by someone, we can be assured that Jesus knows the feeling–from his own experience.
Until next time, Amen!
[P.S. Read all of Psalm 22 on Bible Gateway, along with footnotes: click here. Thanks to Bible Gateway for quotes in this text.]