Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? (My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?)
Familiar words? Yes, and we will hear them this Palm Sunday in the beautiful liturgy of the Passion of the Lord when the Gospel of Saint John’s accounting of Christ’s Passion is proclaimed aloud in parts: Jesus, the Narrator, and the People. (This makes it so personal!) These precious words echo in our hearts because they are Jesus’ dying words as he hangs upon the Cross for us. But is Jesus truly crying out in despair? How can the Son of GOD feel abandoned by his own Heavenly Father? What are we to make of this: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Well, first, yes, Jesus is crying out to his Heavenly Father in the greatest of agony because the Romans knew how to crucify so as to make a person suffer greatly (and so as to deter any attempt of an insurrection). And, too, Jesus was falsely accused by the ruling class of Pharisees, betrayed by one of his own disciples, denied by another, and abandoned by all except his Mother, some women, and John the Evangelist (which is why this Gospel account is so agonizingly accurate). Yet, Jesus was also making his own these very same words spoken centuries before and found in the Old Testament Book of Psalms (Psalm 22); words which we will also hear in today’s Responsorial Psalm when we sing them together. But these words were most familiar to Jesus because his parents Mary & Joseph, devout Jews, taught him to pray the Psalms daily, recalling and uniting himself to the plight and struggles of the Israelite people for centuries: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
Like many of the Psalms, this one is attributed to King David. Although King David is best known for his victory over Goliath as a young boy, fearless and ruddy, these words most likely express David’s own plights when first King Saul, whom he served faithfully, sought to take his life out of sheer jealousy for his great defeats of the Philistines and then second, when one of his own sons sought likewise to take his life in an effort to de-throne him: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
But was Jesus truly crying out in distress? Was he not GOD, too? Did he have to suffer this way? Didn’t he have trust in his Heavenly Father? Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! But, these words were not the end of the “story:” not for Jesus, not for King David, and not for us. In fact, these first words of the Psalm 22 are soon followed with hope, even praise:
You who fear the LORD, praise him! … For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.
In fact, Jesus rather “leads” us through whatever trials and struggles we endure by teaching us to abandon ourselves freely and intentionally “into” the hands of our Heavenly Father, to trust Him with all our might, even when our challenges seem overwhelming and without consolation. Yes, Jesus must suffer greatly for the Will of the Father for our sins and he perfectly abandoned himself into His hands in his greatest Hour: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
And so it is with us that we are invited to repeat some words so very familiar to us: “Jesus, I Trust in You.” And why are these words of trust so familiar? Because they were said so often by little Christina Dangond in her hours of need and in her final Hour, which is why we are assured she is with Jesus. For it is not how much we live in comfort and with earthly successes that determine our earthly and heavenly joy but rather how much we unite our suffering to the suffering of Christ. This, little Christina did perfectly and she now urges us to do likewise: “Jesus, I Trust in You.”
Fr. Ed was ordained to the priesthood in May 2000 for the Archdiocese of Boston. He held three different parish assignments in the Archdiocese from 2000-2010 before his appointment to the Faculty of Saint John’s Seminary, where he was Dean of Men and Director of Pastoral Formation from 2010-2022. Fr. Ed is currently the Administrator of Sacred Heart Parish in Waltham, MA and Spiritual Director & Liaison for the Office for Homeschooling of the Archdiocese of Boston. He is the Spiritual Director for the World Apostolate of Fatima in the Archdiocese and a perpetually professed member of the Institute of Jesus the Priest of the Pauline Family.