Today's Reading: Matthew 27:45-46
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?”
The verses up to now have depicted Jesus’ increasing isolation. It has been a constant and discouraging process. First his disciples betray, deny, and flee from him, then the crowds turn on him, the authorities condemn and crucify him, and his opponents taunt him. Jesus has been stripped of all the normal human supports and encouragement even as his clothes were stripped and divided between his executioners.
And in recognition of this – or perhaps expressing the last element of his utter isolation – Jesus cries aloud in despair, voicing his conviction that even God has turned away. And as if nature adds its assent to Jesus’ assessment, the sky itself turns dark.
Over the years, Christians have tried at times to explain away this cry of dereliction. Noting that it is part of a Psalm, some have seen it as a sign not of despair but faith. He is praying a Psalm, after all, a Psalm that after voicing discouragement turns to hope. But I believe that is huge, unnecessary, and ultimately unhelpful interpretative leap to make.
It seems far more likely that Jesus, steeped in Scripture as his native faith language, finds in it words to express his sense of utter isolation. Further, who says that despair is absent from the life of faith? The last thing one needs when sinking into despair, quite frankly, is guilt. So rather than hold on to Jesus as a model of unyielding faith, why not instead see in Jesus one who understands and accepts our moments of despair because he himself has experienced them?
I think we resist Jesus’ cry – the only thing Matthew reports him as saying from the cross – because it challenges our ideas not only about faith (that is, faith should not despair), but also about God (that is, God is strength). If Jesus is God, we may wonder, how could he despair?
But that overlooks the humanity of Jesus and the commitment of God to take on our lot and our life fully, even to the point of death and despair. And so in this moment we see Jesus at the extreme end of human experience, and thereby we know that there is nothing we ourselves can feel that God will not understand, indeed, already understands because Jesus experienced it. David Lose
Prayer: Dear God, whatever we may experience, you have also experienced. Whatever we may feel, you have felt. Remind us that you understand us fully and love us completely, that we may reach out in understanding and love to others. In Jesus’ name, Amen.