Brothers and Sisters,
And at about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthami?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The scripture is from the book of Matthew, chapter 27. And my question to you all is this: what does that sentence mean?
Let us answer this question as thoroughly as we are able. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, you can find that it is written: “602 Consequently, St Peter can formulate the apostolic faith in the divine plan of salvation in this way: ‘You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers… with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake.’ Man’s sins, following original sin, are punishable by death. By sending his own Son in the form of a slave, in the form of a fallen humanity, on account of sin, God ‘made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ 603 Jesus did not experience reprobation as if he himself had sinned. But 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?’ Having thus established him in solidarity with us sinners, God ‘did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all’, so that we might be ‘reconciled to God by the death of his Son.'”
This, as we can see, is basically just a long-winded way of saying that our sins -all of them, no matter what they are- are punishable by death. But God, in His infinite mercy, sent His own Son, not just in human form, but in the form of a slave, to account for our sins. God, as said above, made Him to be something new: to be sin that did not know sin. Jesus didn’t feel abandoned in the sense as if He Himself had sinned -you and I both know Jesus Christ never sinned. Rather, he felt abandoned in the sense that he took on our state of mortal sin, our state of rebellion, and felt how we felt before the Resurrection: unable to be close -to be intimate- with the Father, for no one had yet paid the price to redeem ourselves. Therefore, a close relationship with Our Father was impossible. Feeling this absence, feeling how we felt before Jesus died and Resurrected, Jesus Christ cried out for us, feeling the anguish that we didn’t even know we’d been feeling: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?
And we know he really felt this way because Jesus Christ didn’t pretend to be a human being. He really is and was fully human, and fully divine. Fr. Kenneth Doyle writes more on this subject: “…Jesus did not pretend to be a human being. He really was one of us, subject to all the vulnerabilities that we ourselves experience. How could He not have felt isolated, even abandoned by God? In the 1990s, Father Raymond Brown, then the world’s most noted Catholic New Testament scholar, argued that Jesus did truly feel abandoned as He hung on the cross. Father Brown pointed out the fact that, while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before, Jesus had addressed His Father with the Aramaic word ‘Abba,’ a term of filial intimacy best rendered by our own word ‘Daddy.’ But here on the cross, just moments before His Death, Jesus now uses the word ‘Eloi,’ a much more formal term for ‘Lord,’ indicating a greater sense of separation.”
Jesus, though completely human, isn’t just any human. He’s 100% human and 100% divine -and what’s more, Jesus Christ never sinned. He came to be sin on the Cross, but until that moment whence He faced His passion head-on, He’d never experienced sin, much less experience what it was like to be unable to be close to Our Father, the one who loves us most.
For, God does not turn away from us, rather we from Him, we must keep in mind that after the Fall and before the Resurrection, it was impossible for us to be truly close to the Father, because there was no ransom for our sins. That absence is what Jesus Christ felt on the cross.
St Ambrose ponders this further in his letter to the Arians: “As being man, therefore, He doubts; as man He is amazed. Neither His power nor His Godhead is amazed, but His soul; He is amazed by consequence of having taken human infirmity upon Him. Seeing, then, that He took upon Himself a soul He also took the affections of a soul, for God could not have been distressed or have died in respect of His being God. Finally, He cried: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? As being man, therefore, He speaks, bearing with Him many terrors, for when we are in the midst of dangers we think ourself abandoned by God. As man, therefore, He is distressed, as man He weeps, as man He is crucified.”
The emphasis that St Ambrose gives us on Jesus’ humanity is due mostly to his argument against Arianism, but nonetheless it ties in with Scripture and with the scene of Jesus’ cry of forsakenness. He’s taken all sins -those that have happened, those that are happening, those that are yet to happen- upon Himself; that’s a pretty hefty weight. And because He’s human (as well as divine), he’s understandably… upset. He’s terrified.
When Jesus hung on the cross, all our sins were placed upon Him. He became the perfect sacrifice, and in that moment His humanity came to know the absence of the Father that we felt after the Fall and before the Resurrection. He could not be in the presence of God like He was before, for sin without renewal can’t exist in God’s presence. That’s the cry. He endured the separation that you and I deserve to endure, that was endured before He died, descended into Hell, and then Rose Again. It’s a harsh truth… but also, in an odd way, a comfort. Jesus Christ was tortured and died for us, and then He Rose Again, so that we don’t need to fear death or Hell or judgement as long as we live in Him. 1 Peter says, “For Christ died for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”
With us being in this Easter season, let us remember this; our Savior did not just die for our sins. He was not just tortured. He defeated the Devil and triumphs over Evil. He rose from the dead, to bring us to God. Brothers and sisters, we are forsaken no longer: now, we are the Easter People. Let us do our best to act like the Easter people that Christ so desperately wants us to be. Let us let Jesus bring us to His -to our- Father.
May our Maker bless you always,