When Jesus asked “Why have you forsaken me?”… Can you expand on that please?
This is a great question in reference to Jesus’ words as He was being crucified – especially since at their face value, these words may seem as though Jesus was filled with doubt or even to be at odds with the will of the Father. However, something more than meets the eye is happening here, especially when we look at the passion as told by all four Gospels.
Only Matthew and Mark allude to Jesus having said the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” Seeing how the original texts of all of the New Testament books were written in Greek, it is notable that both Matthew and Mark write these words first in Aramaic. In Matthew 27:46, it is given as, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (though the word “Eli” is said to be Hebrew and not Aramaic) In Mark 15:34, it is, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani.” The use of the Aramaic words by these evangelists point to Jesus’ origins in Nazareth, of Galilee, where Aramaic was a local dialect. Furthermore, they serve to show the play on words wherein the crowds are shown to respond by declaring “He is calling for Elijah.” I give this background about the text as it will further explain why Jesus says these words, mindful of all four Gospels.
Again, while only Matthew and Mark’s accounts contain the words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” all four evangelists have this common detail: that while Jesus was on the cross, he prayed. In Luke, among Jesus’ words from the cross are, “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” Meanwhile, John includes the simple words, “I thirst,” at which the soldiers respond by giving Jesus wine (more like vinegar) mixed with gall. These details are important because all four evangelists are hereby including Jesus’ speaking of words from the Psalms. Working backwards, John’s reference to Jesus’ words, “I thirst” (John 19:28), allude to Psalm 69:22 – “Instead they put gall in my food; for my thirst they gave me vinegar.” Luke’s recording of the words, “Into your hands I commend my spirit,” in Luke 23:46 are originally given as part of Psalm 31:6. Finally, our cited words in question from Matthew and Mark are the words of Psalm 22:2, which are the opening words of this psalm “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In all of these instances, the greater significance of these phrases of Jesus than simply the words themselves is that Jesus is speaking prayers from the psalms in the midst of his suffering. Adding to the significance is that all of the cited psalms by Jesus are songs of languish and lament – that faithful Jews would have prayed/sang and which would have been familiar to many who heard Jesus say them while He was in His passion. (Therefore, that Matthew and Mark use the Aramaic words first perhaps heightens the sense of Jesus’ use of the phrase as a prayer – not meant for the people to hear, but directed to the Father).
Thus, cutting to the chase, Jesus’ use of these words was above all an act of prayer, offering familiar words of the psalms even I the midst of His passion. That these words truly fit the situation make the beauty of the psalms all the more real – that these prayers are more than pious thoughts; they truly are meant as prayers in the midst of suffering, lament, and even doubt. We would do well to see in these words (and so many other words that Jesus uses throughout His earthly life) the direct connection to words of the Old Testament Scriptures, that we might draw out even more of the intent and beauty of what Jesus says, and how He fulfills what was written in the Old Testament. Finally, that He says these particular words can give us an example to pray with the fullness of our being, allowing when proper for our emotions to be united to the words we speak, after the manner of Jesus.
Fr. Joel Hastings