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Jesus’ Cry on the Cross

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And at three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which is translated, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34, NAB)


The first time my attention was called to this passage was when I was in high school. I overheard the conversation of two fellow students of which one was a Baptist and the other a member of the Iglesya ni Cristo. The former was trying to convince the other that Jesus was God. The other retorted by citing the passage and pointing out that if Jesus cried to God, then he is not God; otherwise if Jesus is God, then he would have been praying to himself, which is absurd.

Logical, it would seem. An application of the principle of identity. If A is B, then B is A. But if A is not B, then B could not be A. Jesus (A) prays to God (B) whom he says has abandoned him. So God (B) could not be Jesus (A). B is not A, therefore Jesus (A) is not God (B).

We now know however that in the scene described by Mark, Jesus is praying the Psalm 22 which is the 3’o clock prayer of the Jews. It is at this point that Jesus, God become man, takes upon himself the “I” of Psalm 22, thereby identifying himself with Israel’s experience of suffering and the suffering of those who die experiencing the absence of God.

This week, I found three articles that specifically refer to the above passage. The first is from Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi’s commentary on a portion of Benedict XVI’s “Message for the World Day of Communications 2012″. The second is from Benedict XVI’s Catechism on the Prayer of the Dying Jesus on the Cross. And the third is from one of the interventions in the Conference “Gesu nostro contemporaneo” by Rino Fisichella. Below are the relevant quotations.

Anche Dio Tace by G. Ravasi
In the New Testament, the highest and most drammatic negative representation of the divine silence is found on the cross of Christ, when he experiences the abandonment of the Father through His silence: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me” (Mark 15:34). Yet this emptiness which renders Christ truly and fully our brother not only in suffering and in death but also in the absence of God, will not break out in definite separation and solitude. It will set on Easter morn when the Father will efficaciousy respond to the invocation of the Son through the Resurrection.

Heinrich Schlier (1900-1978), famous German theologian and exegete commented:

At the moment in which God makes him experience what it is to be without God, to suffer, to die without God, Jesus turns to God with a psalm of the pious of the Old Testament. He does not cry out into nothingness, but to Him, towards Him. He turns to God, without God. He places at the feet of the God who has abandoned him the anguish of dying-without-God. Through this experience, Jesus, in the end,becomes for all, the conqueror of dying-abandoned-by-God, the conqueror of death-without-God.

See my translation of “Anche Dio Tace” here.

Benedict XVI has a continuing catechism on the prayers of Jesus. This is what he says regarding the cry of Jesus on the Cross

The Cry of the Dying Jesus on the Cross
It is important to understand that Jesus’ prayer is not the cry of one who goes to meet death in despair, nor is it the cry of one who knows he has been abandoned. In that moment, Jesus makes His own the whole of Psalm 22, the great psalm of the suffering people of Israel, and so He is taking upon Himself not only the tribulation of His people, but also of all people who suffer under the oppression of evil — and, at the same time, He brings all of this before the heart of God Himself, in the certainty that His cry will be heard in the Resurrection: “The cry of extreme anguish is at the same time the certainty of an answer from God, the certainty of salvation — not only for Jesus Himself, but for ‘many’” (Jesus of Nazareth II, p. 214).

The prayer of Jesus contains the utmost confidence and abandonment into God’s hands, even in His apparent absence, even when He seemingly remains in silence, in accordance with a plan incomprehensible to us. Thus, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read: “In the redeeming love that always united Him to the Father, He assumed us in the state of our waywardness of sin, to the point that He could say in our name from the Cross: ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’” (n. 603). His is a suffering in communion with us and for us that is born of love and already includes redemption, the victory of love.

The whole article can be found at the Zenit website.

Finally, we have the intervention of Rino Fisichella for the Conference “Gesù nostro contemporaneo” currently being held in Rome. A copy of the intervention was published in the daily edition of the L’Osservatore Romano: Il grido di Ivan: All’ mistero della sofferenza risponde L’Incarnazione e la Croce“, p. 5. Jesus is contemporaneous to us in that through the mystery of his suffering and death, he has, once and for all time, answered the deepest anquish of man; he who suffers does not suffer alone.

Il Grido di Ivan by R. Fisichella
After the cry of Jesus on the cross: Eloi eloi lema sabactani (Mark 15:34), no man can ever be abandoned by God again. This can happen only once in the history of humanity and it happened when the Son of God died on Golgotha. Certainly, that cry on the lips of Christ is an indication that even in ” a christian environment there is the possibility of the deepest doubt, the greatest failure, sorrow and struggle, incredulity, the impenetrability even of earthly reality and its apparent absurdity” — and yet, all this comes near to and borders on tragedy, but does not give in to them.

Originally posted 2012-02-10 21:53:38. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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