My God, my God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?" - A Reflection on the Passion of Christ
During the Great Fast, as we look forward to Great and Holy
Week, we begin to turn our attention to Our Lord’s Passion.
When thinking about the Passion, our focus is frequently on its
physical characteristics: the nails, the
spear, the crown of thorns, the scourging, and the fatigue of carrying the
Without downplaying the intensity and significance of the
physical suffering of Christ, we cannot overlook the mental, emotional and
spiritual aspects of the Passion. Human
beings consist of body, mind and soul. Christ
took on all of our nature, except sin, in order to grant us salvation. As Christ had a human mind and soul, and just
as we suffer in those parts of our being, His suffering extended to them as
well. He was betrayed by one of his own
followers. He was mocked. He was utterly abandoned by his closest
friends. I would like to explore this
last one tonight, by looking at two details from the Gospel of Mark.
In Mark’s account of the Passion, there are a few unique
particulars that are not found in the other Gospels. As Mark describes what follows the Last
Supper, in the Garden, as Jesus is being arrested by a crowd sent from the high
priest, the evangelist mentions the following:
they [the disciples] all forsook him, and fled. And a young man followed him,
with nothing but a linen cloth about his body; and they [the crowd] seized him,
but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.
In this enigmatic detail, some Church Fathers have tried to
identify one of the disciples: usually
James, John or even the evangelist Mark himself. Some people in modern times have tried to
find some sort of hidden meaning to this curious passage. Rather than conjuring up something far-fetched,
it should bring our minds back to the start of the Gospel, back to the
beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus
called His disciples to leave their boats, their nets, their families; ultimately,
they left everything in order to follow
Him. Now, at the end—or, really, the
pinnacle—of His ministry, Jesus’ disciples run away and this young man leaves
everything (including his clothing!) in order to flee from Jesus, to get as far from Jesus as fast as he could.
When Jesus began His movement to the Cross, He did so
completely abandoned by His disciples.
The last three hours of Jesus’ earthly life are summed up by
Mark in five brief verses:
And when the sixth
hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And
at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, "E'lo-i, E'lo-i, la'ma
sabach-tha'ni?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken
me?" And some of the bystanders hearing it said, "Behold, he is
calling Eli'jah." And one ran and, filling a sponge full of vinegar, put
it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, "Wait, let us see
whether Eli'jah will come to take him down." And Jesus uttered a loud cry,
and breathed his last. (Mark 15:33-37)
As Jesus hung on the cross—abandoned by His followers,
abandoned even by the light in the sky as He was bathed in darkness—He cried
out in Aramaic, His mother tongue. He
quoted the first line of Psalm 22: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
The topic of Psalm 22 is a righteous man who suffers
unjustly. In the Old Testament, we read
about such righteous men, like Job, who was severely tested and suffered. Job’s wife, seeing all Job was going through,
once said to him, “Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9)
People can endure a lot when they are supported by a
community, when family and friends cheer them on. But what about when they are alone and
abandoned? When the world just wants to
see them die? When God seems far away? What’s the point? Why continue? Throw in the towel! Just give up!
Curse God and die!
Yet, with this cry, Jesus was not giving up.
This cry of forsakenness of the God-man is truly a mystery,
and even a little unsettling to us. Saint
Ambrose, the 4th century bishop of Milan
had this to say about it: “As human,
therefore, He [Jesus] speaks on the cross bearing with Him our terrors. For amid dangers it is a very human response
to think ourselves abandoned.” Just as we
react in such situations, just as we feel God is distant from us in the face of
certain hardships, Jesus Christ experienced the same. Nevertheless, this was not a cry of defeat. Like
Job, He didn’t curse God. With words
from the Psalms, He called upon God and reached out to Him. He surrendered Himself to His Father’s will,
At the end of Psalm 22, the righteous man is delivered and
vindicated. At the moment Jesus died,
when to the world it would appear that Jesus was a defeated failure, Mark
reports that the Temple’s curtain was torn in
two—a sure sign of God’s displeasure, that God was abandoning the Jerusalem Temple, not His Son. The soldier standing by the Cross recognized,
at that moment, that Jesus was the Son of God.
After three days in the tomb, He was raised, victorious over death,
darkness, and evil. God proved His Son
In light of these two abandonments—Jesus abandoned by all His
companions and Jesus crying out as He experienced the distance that all mankind
feels towards God—we should look at ourselves, and how we relate to God and our
fellow human beings:
- Do we
abandon Christ in the way we live and act?
- Do we
abandon others when they need us most?
- Do we
(individually and as community) support our family members, friends,
fellow parishioners, anyone, when they are forsaken, lonely, or rejected? Do we help them, or do we just want to
see them go away?
I say when—we feel that God is distant, how do we react? Do we blame Him and curse Him, or do we
cry out to Him with our whole heart?
If you know someone going through a trial or difficult time,
don’t run away like the disciples—stay and be a support. If you have
run away, go back and help. If you are now struggling, reach out to God
and to others. If God seems distant and
non-responsive, don’t despair—reach out even more.
We can take away this lesson from Our Lord’s Passion: even if all seems hopeless, even if all is
covered in darkness, everyone has abandoned you and even God seems too far away
to notice, be righteous, be faithful to God to the end, and in that there is vindication, redemption
This is easier said than done. It is not without pain. But we can be assured that Jesus Christ has
run this course ahead of us and meets us at the end.
- Seminarian & Subdeacon David Mastroberte