The next few posts are going to be a running devotional, reading through the Gospel of Mark, with short commentary and prayer. I will post several of these over the next few days, leading up to the Easter.
People walking by insulted him, shaking their heads and saying, “ Ha! So you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, were you? Save yourself and come down from that cross!”
In the same way, the chief priests were making fun of him among themselves, together with the legal experts. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself. Let the Christ, the king of Israel, come down from the cross. Then we’ll see and believe.” Even those who had been crucified with Jesus insulted him. From noon until three in the afternoon the whole earth was dark. At three, Jesus cried out with a loud shout, “Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you left me?”
After hearing him, some standing there said, “Look! He’s calling Elijah!” Someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, and put it on a pole. He offered it to Jesus to drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah will come to take him down.” But Jesus let out a loud cry and died.
The curtain of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. When the centurion, who stood facing Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “This man was certainly God’s Son.”
“My God, My God, why have you left me?” I’ve wondered the same thing. “Why?” is a common question that is posed to God. All too often the answer is left unanswered. Some may find it disconcerting to think of Jesus asking this question while on the cross. How can God abandon Jesus? If they are one in the same, how is this possible?
Tomes have been written on the subject by people more learned and articulate than me. So we discover another “Why” question in the midst of the ultimate “Why?” There are a lot of explanations to Jesus’ cry. Whole sects and heresies have risen and fallen based on different answers to this question. In seminary, this is the part of the class that started throwing out words like “Neo-Platanism, Gnostics, and Arianism.” This was the part of the class that my eyes got glossy, and I longed for the next coffee break.
I value my seminary education, and cherish every moment I spent immersed in the transformative learning that I experienced in seminary, yet I admit I am no Biblical scholar. I would fail miserably as a seminary professor.
I speak only as a man of faith when I say that Jesus’ cry on the cross haunts me and comforts me. It is both a great source of humility and a source of strength. For one, I know the Psalm which Jesus is quoting. When he cries out “Why have you left me?” he is quoting Psalm 22. It is as if he is shouting out the title of a song, which starts with loss, isolation, and abandonment, but ends with assurance, comfort, and victory.
It is entirely possible that in Jesus’ last cry the whole of the Psalm is captured. And thus, the whole of Jesus’ mission. It is a call forward, not just of despair, but of promise that out of despair God will raise us up. Psalm 22 is a promise to all generations, to the future people of God that God will be present. Given the fact that crucifixion is meant to wipe out one’s future legacy, this is a bold statement. To claim Psalm 22 is to claim the promise of God even in the midst of apparent loss.
I also feel though, that I have to be careful to not read too much into Jesus’ cry. It is, on surface, a cry of lamentation. I have to ask myself, is it okay to leave it that way? Is it okay to leave Jesus on the cross alone and forsaken? Is it okay to leave Jesus a man that is facing his own mortality as any other man would? Is it okay to have a Savior that was that vulnerable? Is it okay to let Jesus be abandoned?
When I have fallen on my knees in shame, when I have pounded the ground in despair, when I have let myself be vulnerable, only to be taken advantage of and wounded, when I have screamed at the top of my lungs in agony, is it okay? There is a part of me that finds it reassuring to know that Jesus is not high up on a cross, dying with quiet dignity, above the fray. I am comforted in knowing that when I am at my lowest, Jesus is there too. When I feel beaten, battered, and bruised, I pray to a God who knows what I feel. I pray to a God that has died with me. When I scream at God in despair, I know that I do so in good company. I am not going to be offered easy answers. I am simply going to have a Savior that wraps his arms around me and whispers, “I am with you.” And I will know that he speaks from experience.
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? It is a question I have asked before, and if I am honest, it is one I will surely ask again. Even in my asking I know that it will never really be true. Even in my struggle I know that you are always present, and for that I am forever grateful. Amen.