CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 22 July 2017

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Why have you 
abandoned me!

On his cross, Jesus cried out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which has been translated as, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Usually this sentence is understood as complete, as an expression of Jesus’ agony on the cross. We can understand Jesus’ words as an expression of the well-known experience of the absence of God.

But today, we might look back to the psalm which we will have read a few moments before the proclamation of the Passion.

Composed centuries before the life of Jesus, this psalm also contains the phrase, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” So could it be that Jesus is quoting the psalm?

We do know that Jesus was thoroughly familiar with the scriptures of the Jewish people.

Jesus often directly quotes the psalms, or alludes to them indirectly. Clearly the psalms were not only part of his intellectual equipment, they were deeply embedded in his expression of prayer.

So could it be that on the cross Jesus is praying and is quoting the psalm? If we understand that the psalm is Jesus’ own prayer in the midst of his Passion, then it deserves a longer look. Perhaps you can read it at home.

A few moments before the Passion, we would have read a selection from the psalm, but I invite you to read the psalm in its entirety. It is the prayer of a man in distress.

He prays to God, but God does not answer. He pours out to God his collection of sorrows: although he is virtuous, his enemies surround him, waiting to pounce.

He is fearful and his body is in agony. So what does he do? In the midst of his suffering, the psalmist recalls that God has saved his people in the past.

He trusts that God will save him. He trusts that it is God who will come to his rescue. And then he will have the opportunity to praise God in front of all the people of the land, all the tribes of Israel. Everyone will give glory to God.

I understand that Jesus prayed this psalm. The words in our gospel are a kind of shorthand, leading us not just to one line, but to the whole psalm.

In the midst of his suffering, Jesus experienced the absence of God. But at the same time, Jesus never lost confidence that God would rescue him and would help him.

So Jesus faced death with the certainty that somehow, in some way, God would rescue him. Jesus was deeply grounded in the psalms and this psalm gave expression to his prayer, to his trust in the Father.

And it happened! Soon we will celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. We remember that Jesus suffered and died in agony, but we never forget the good news that he rose from the dead!

And so at Easter, we will assemble with our brothers and sisters. We will praise God’s name in our assembly.

At our Easter Masses, we will celebrate that our God never abandons his chosen people, and never turns his back on us.

Our experience may be that God has abandoned us, but our experience is incomplete: God is surely with us, drawing us from darkness to light, from captivity to freedom, from despair to hope, from death to life.