איל איל למנא שׁבקתני
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 27:46 (NRSV)
I recently met up with a friend so she could deliver some homemade gumbo (thank you, Sabrina–it was delicious)! Before we parted ways, we chatted about the Christlike protagonist in a show we’ve both been enjoying. While my mind was fixated on the gumbo, she mentioned a parallel between this protagonist and Christ’s Passion that has since stuck with me: “Christians tend to forget that Jesus knew what was coming, but He went through with it anyway.” She’s absolutely correct. I’ve spent 22 Lents and counting listening to sermons about the Passion, yet I often fail to fully appreciate this monumental detail of His sacrifice.
At first, Jesus’s prior knowledge may appear contrary to His final words—”Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”—the original Aramaic text of which is the title of this post. Roughly translated, Jesus cried out, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (or “my God, my God, for what have you forsaken me,” by Mark’s account). If you believe in an omniscient version of the Trinity, as do most Christians, it might seem odd that Jesus would question His crucifixion. Nevertheless, the cry remains the only one of Jesus’s seven different final words to appear in more than one gospel, highlighting their importance.
It’s also worth noting that in asking, “why have you forsaken me,” Jesus is quoting Psalm 22:1, in which the author similarly cries out, questioning the Godforsakenness of Israel in the face of persecution by her enemies. It seems impossible that God could understand Godforsakenness, much less empathize with the feeling. And yet, these are His chosen last words.
Assuming, then, that this quote doesn’t singlehandedly unravel Trinitarian doctrine, what does it mean for Christians? More things than I could imagine, but what I find most profound about this verse is that it beautifully illustrates Jesus’s humanity. He understands us—including our griefs, fears, sorrows, and frustrations—more deeply than I could ever appreciate. It shows us that as both God and man, Jesus is living up to the prophecy of St. Joseph’s dream:
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us.’Matthew 1:22-23 (NRSV)
His crucifixion is painfully human: bereaved yet courageous, not stoic and expressionless. Overlooking that doesn’t do Him justice. It stands in contrast to the reigning mythologies of the time: Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and the mystery religions like Mithraism. The admission of suffering makes our relationship with God that much more intimate.
So, next time I’m caught in life’s throes and convinced that I am alone in my struggles, I plan to return to Jesus’s last words, both at the crucifixion and at the end of the gospel of St. Matthew:
Go therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all things, whatsoever I commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even until the end of the world.Matthew 28:19-20 (NRSV)
Truly, He understands us, and He is with us always.
Filed under: Christian Theology,Religious Studies - @ October 26, 2022