Theology from the cross pt.1
By Mike Waine
From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:45-46
Of all the things one might have expected Jesus, God incarnate, to cry out as he was hanging from the cross, this probably wouldn’t have made the list! But what was Jesus actually trying to say?
First, it is important to note that Jesus was actually quoting Psalm 22 here.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
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. Psalm 22:1-5
I don’t know who’s benefit this was for – the Matthew passage goes on to say that bystanders heard it and thought he was calling for Elijah to save him; the commentaries around the bystanders comments seem to suggest that either they were mocking him or misunderstanding (perhaps being Hellenistic Jews without a firm grip on the Aramaic language.)
Other accounts of Jesus on the cross note others gathering there. Amongst any of those who were present, it can be assumed that if they were Jews, they would have known this scriptural reference. The opening lines of David’s psalm are characteristically full of lament. The parallels between Jesus narrative and Psalm 22 don’t, however, stop with this cry.
Psalm 22:7 and 22:18 both correspond directly with what happens around the cross.
All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads; Psalm 22:7
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads Matthew 27:39
they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots. Psalm 22:18
When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Matthew 27:35
Perhaps, then, Jesus is quoting this psalm so as to suggest it’s fulfillment in his crucifixion. David is a significant figure to associate with; the great king, from whose line a messiah is anticipated.
This line of thinking potentially reaches its conclusion when one reads the end of Psalm 22:
future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it. Psalm 22:30-31
This links in with another quote of Jesus’ from the cross – “It is finished.”
He has done it.
So maybe, in crying out “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, Jesus wasn’t expressing himself, but rather re-asking a long held question that finally had an answer. A poetic statement that alludes to what was really going on.
Or maybe not? Tomorrow, I will post two alternative understandings of this interpretation.
Comment below with your thoughts about this reading of Jesus’ cry from the cross.