Daffodils hang their heads, humbled by last week’s cold front. These were the first to bloom in my garden of not-knowing. Now I wonder if the other mystery bulbs will bloom, or if those bitter cold nights will bring only stillborn hyacinths and tulips.
Nonetheless, here we are smack in the middle of Jesus’s seven Last Words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” As he lifts his head and shouts this Hebrew question, onlookers mistakenly guess he’s calling out to the prophet Elijah. But Jesus, who rode into town on a borrowed donkey and would be buried in a borrowed tomb, here borrows the words of David from Psalm 22.
Throughout the psalm David shifts back and forth between despair and praise. Just reading the first line of each stanza reveals a mind split in two: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”; “Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One”; “But I am a worm and not a man”; “Yet you brought me out of the womb.” Back and forth, back and forth David vacillates until he lands on unequivocal praise for what he hopes God will do in the future, eclipsing both his past and present anguish.
When Jesus quotes David’s first line—My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?—I hear only desolation and distress. I’ve read that some say Jesus’ choice of quotation implies the opposite—that he wants his listeners (and readers) to remember the end of the psalm with its hopeful, exultant conclusion—that Jesus transcends suffering by looking ahead to resurrection, mind over matter. After all, how could he really be forsaken? I’m all for creativity, but this seems like a stretch.
I think Jesus borrowed another man’s words simply because they fit what he felt. Deserted. Abandoned. Forsaken.
Maybe Jesus also borrowed David’s words to validate them, as if to say: It’s okay to approach God when your feelings don’t shimmer with piety.
It’s okay to ask God why.
It’s okay to be present and real, to feel rejected and disappointed.
It’s okay to express hurt and pain, to hang your disgraced head. Really, it’s okay.
David knew it.
Jesus knew it.
Daffodils know it.
I’m still learning.
Note from Em In January and February, I took a dive into a tradition that was, until recently, unfamiliar to me: Jesus’ Last Words from the cross, also known as the Sayings of Jesus on the cross. These seven phrases are taken from all four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Woven together, they form a cohesive narrative of Jesus’ final hours. Books I read include Cross-Shattered Christ by Stanley Hauerwas, Echoes from Calvary edited by Richard Young, Seven Last Words by Timothy Radcliffe, In the Shadow of the Cross by Stephen C. Rowan, Seven Last Words by Fr. James Martin, and Friday Afternoon: Reflections on the Seven Last Words by Neville Ward. These seven posts I am writing during Lent are my reflections on the Last Words. Enjoy.