Jesus’ famous cry from the cross. For his followers, it seemed the end of the road. Most of them fled. John and some of the women stayed. The One in whom they had fully trusted and forsaken everything to follow was now dying a criminal’s death. Unfairly tried and unfairly convicted, to be sure. But Jesus was crucified nonetheless. He would die soon, and then what? Life was ebbing. Hope was fading. Darkness was coming.
Then from the cross, Jesus lets out a cry in his native Aramaic.
“ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” (Matt. 27: 45-46).
Desperation and agony, certainly. But more than that, too. Looking closely, we also see faith and hope. After all, Jesus is quoting Scripture.
Ps 22:1 My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?
Hanging on the cross, Jesus’ perfect fellowship with the father was broken. He who knew no sin had become sin (2 Cor. 5:21). Did he really feel forsaken? Without a doubt. Was there real separation from God? Somehow, mysteriously, it seems there was. Both Matthew and Mark seem to interpret it this way.
But there is more. Jesus is forsaken, but God is still “My” God.
Its hard not to see here hope mixed with despair. As R. T. France says, “this shout expresses not a loss of faith, but a (temporary) loss of contact.” Perhaps, Jesus, in the final moments of His agony, held to the hope that things were not as they seemed. After all, Jesus had already predicted His own death and resurrection (Matt. 20:17–19). And in Gethsemane He seemed to anticipate something of the horrible events yet to come. That is, He was not taken by surprise by all of it. And when the horrific events had come in full, as Jesus hung on the cross, He turns to Scripture in search of both a cry of help and an expression of trust. He comes up with Psalm 22, verse 1.
But by declaring that God was yet “My” God, Jesus held together two things often seen as contradictory. Fear and faith. Questions and confidence. All wrapped together in this little verse from the Psalms and uttered here by a dying Savior. He feels forsaken, but yet declares God is “his” God.
Of course, His faith was proved right. Hope was not dead. Death would not win. Darkness would not overcome. Resurrection was coming. Jesus, in the midst of His suffering, both cried for help and declared his trust. And under far less severe conditions, is it really too much that God would ask the same of us?
R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, New International Commentary on the New Testament. Accordance electronic ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 1077.