“The Tragic and Triumphant Cross Leading to Hope for Us All”
“Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them. To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.”
“But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people. All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver – let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
“Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast. On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God. Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.”
“Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.”
“I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”
“For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
“But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.” (Psalm 22:1-21)
In the gospels of Mark and Matthew the final words of Jesus before his death are the opening verse of Psalm 22 “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The gospel writers communicate the words in the original Aramaic and Hebrew languages, one of which Jesus must have spoken from the cross. The words came to Jesus’ mind, perhaps instinctively, to express his experience of torment and the feeling of abandonment. The God with whom Jesus had enjoyed close intimacy and affirmation throughout his life, now seemed to have deserted him.
Jesus must have experienced on the cross what many have called a “dark night of the soul.” In this experience Jesus was united with the many people who struggle with not only severe physical suffering, but emotional and spiritual affliction as well. The pain is enormous when a person knows that God is good and loving, yet experiences only betrayal and desolation. Jesus plunged into the very human experience of God’s silence when most in need.
In quoting the first verse of the psalm, however, the evangelists want the reader to recall the entire psalm. Several other verses of the psalm are quoted or alluded to in the passion accounts. Surely Jesus, who knew the psalms by heart, must have continued the psalm as his final prayer to the Father. The prayer is the lament of a tortured Israelite who is suffering unjustly. The first half of the psalm focuses on the desolation of his suffering; the second half on the triumphant vindication of God’s faithful one.
For Christians, Jesus is the fullest embodiment of this faithful Israelite. Abandoned by his friends and seemingly by God, mocked and tormented by his enemies, his garments divided by lot, his hands and feet pierced, and thirsting for drink, Jesus placed his life solely in God’s hands. The early Christians used this psalm, as they used other parts of the Old Testament, to emphasize its fulfillment in the passion of Jesus and to interpret the full meaning of his torturous death as a surrender of his life to his Father.
The identification of Jesus’ experience with that of the psalmist does not end with the lament section, however. Both experience the deliverance of God expressed in the psalm’s second half; whereas the psalmist is delivered from death, Jesus is delivered through death. The forsaken one, after expressing his lament, gives praise to God who hears his cry and receives the praise of nations and future generations.
When have you felt abandoned by God and other people?
My God, my God, when I am suffering alone and feeling abandoned, help me to trust in you. When I am mocked and surrounded by evil, protect me and do not turn your face from me. May I proclaim your faithfulness to the coming generations.