As Good Friday approaches, I listen again to that cry from the Cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” And, once again, I wonder why it is so rarely read in context.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus always addresses his Father with the familiar form of address, "Abba". Here, on the Cross, he shifts to the formal "Eli" or "Eloi". This has been interpreted as an indication of the depth of Jesus' sense of abandonment.
However, there could be a much simpler reason for his choice of address. "Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani" are the opening words of Psalm 22, and any devout Jew at the foot of the Cross would have known this Psalm, line for line. The chief priests, scribes and elders gathered below him must be stopped dead in their tracks - they who, a few minutes earlier had wagged their heads at him, saying derisively: “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him” (Mt 27:43).
“All who see me mock at me” says the Psalm, “they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; ‘He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him!’”
Does a stillness fall upon the crowd, broken only by the rattling of the dice? “…they have pierced my hand and feet… they divide my garments among them; and for my raiment they cast lots.”
Do their minds race ahead to the prayer for deliverance that comes next in the Psalm: “But thou, O Lord, be not far off!” Is it at this point they begin - derisively? a little uncertainly? - to mutter, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him” (Mt 27:49). The ringing conclusion of the Psalm is a long way removed from the despair of the opening: “men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn”. The words may be at once a warning to the hostile, and a comfort to the faithful. He has nearly done.
Far from being a cry of despair, are Jesus' words not a shout of triumph?
Helen is part of the team at New Pilgrim Path.