Tuesday, April 2, 2013

My God, My God.. Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Every year my parish asks a few people to do a reflection on Good Friday on one of the seven last phrases, or words, of Christ on the cross. This was mine from 2012 on "My God, My God.. Why have You forsaken Me?"

From noon onward,u darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 
And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” 
which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 
Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling for Elijah.”
Matthew 27: 45-47

In Matthew 27 we read, “About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When we talk about this passage, we usually just concentrate on Jesus speaking to His Father in that moment.

But if we go back to the Psalms.. To Psalm 22, which was written almost 1000 years before Jesus became man. A beloved Psalm that everyone would have known and recognized.. Psalm 22 begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” At that moment, Jesus wasn’t just creating Scripture.. He was quoting it. He quoted the beginning of a Psalm that goes on to detail and prophesize His own Passion through the plight of the Isrealites. He wasn’t just speaking to God in that moment. He was also speaking to those who were crucifying Him. And he was speaking to us.

In that moment, people would have recognized what He was quoting. We can imagine that reciting the beginning of such a well-known Psalm to those people who had been screaming at Our Lord, jeering at him on His walk to be crucified, and laughing at Him on the cross would have stopped them in their tracks and taken their breath away. We can imagine their minds racing back to that Psalm and coming to a horrible realization that the man being crucified before them was truly the Messiah that had been prophesized to them.
In that Psalm, in verse 5, we read a lament to God the Father. He says, “In You our ancestors trusted, they trusted and you rescued them. To you they cried out and they escaped; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. But [to them] I am a worn, hardly human scorned by everyone, despised by the people.”
Perhaps those who had followed Jesus to his death would have realized that they had become the exact people they were sure they’d never be. And don’t we find ourselves in the same situation? We read about the Good Samaritan and think that we’d surely stop to help, but we avoid that person who really just needs someone to talk to. Or we say that we despise gossiping, but we end up talking about the person who gossips. We gasp over stories about dishonest people in the newspaper, but we live many lies in our lives. We always hear that line about things being so much easier if there were no sinners in the Catholic Church. Most especially ourselves.

The Psalm continues, “All who see me mock me, they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me; ‘You relied on the Lord – let Him deliver you; if he loves you, let him rescue you’.”

Here the people at the foot of the cross would have come to see that they had persecuted a man for the exact thing they were trying to protect. And don’t we do this every day? We look for flaws in people who give good and holy examples; saying that they’re self-righteous. We try to tear down people who live simply and who love humbly; claiming that they’re too uptight. We roll our eyes at the people who try to get us more involved, we scoff at those who try to get us to do the right thing, we dismiss those who don’t have flashy things to offer. We jeer at people who are doing exactly what God asks.

The Psalm, remember written nearly 1000 years before Jesus walked the earth, continues, “They stare at me and gloat; they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots. But you my Lord, do not stay far off; my strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver me from the sword.”

Perhaps a few of those soldiers would have been familiar with the Psalms. Maybe they would have gotten sick to their stomachs and felt so much regret, knowing that their arrogance had been their demise. And yet, we do the same. We reject Church teachings that don’t seem to serve us well. Like the soldiers who cast lots for Our Lord’s garments, we pick and choose the parts of the faith that we want, instead of falling to our knees and embracing her fully as our Mother Church. It can be as big as the controversial topics so often argued over on the news or as small as taking something that belongs to a brother or sister.. But many times, we find excuses to get us out of living according to God’s will.

See, we all will have many moments in our lives like these – when we stop and realize how we have crucified Our Lord. What matters is what we do with that realization.. Do we swat it away and turn from the truth? Do we make excuses? Do we become bitter? Or, like Psalm 22, do we go on to praise God and find hope in Him. God is asking us to look at our lives with humble, honest, and faithful eyes. Many times the cross He asks us to bear is gnarly and in ruins.. But only when we pick it up and bring it to Him can it be restored. Only when we come to Him with our hurts and our weaknesses can we be restored.

There is hope. Even Jesus, nailed to a cross, reciting the words, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” had hope. He said these words, not to persecute us but to help us to fully realize what he had said the day before at the Last Supper.. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” 

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