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The Good Book
First Fruits: The Giving of the Harvest
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Jesus' Prayerbook Part 3: Psalm 22
Friday. A young rabbi, unjustly condemned, beaten close to death, hangs
naked and humiliated on a cross outside the busy gates of Jerusalem. A few,
a very few, brave friends are close by to lend what moral support they can
while enemies laugh and taunt and mock him.
Clouds grow thick and angry as Rabbi Jesus cries out
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Psalm 22:1, NLT)
It is not recorded whether or not Jesus quoted the entire psalm. Given
his battered state it is highly unlikely. But the psalms were so much
a part of the life of an observant Jew that simply reciting the first
line would cause the entire psalm to come to the mind of both speaker
It is an interesting choice for Jesus to make because the psalm is divided
into two sections. The first, which he quotes from, is filled with pain,
frustration and doubt:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why do you remain so distant?
Why do you ignore my cries for help?
Every day I call to you, my God but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief.
Who has not felt the bitter taste of those words? Who has not been buffeted
about by life so intensely that you are sent sprawling into the dust,
beseeching God to help you, only to be greeted by an apparent slamming
and bolting of his door? Jesus knew such silence keenly, but at that point
there was one thing he could not fathom, perhaps because the weight of
all the sins that bore down upon him, all the pain of the world, made
him unable to experience the Father's presence,
My God, my God, why have YOU abandoned me?
He could understand his apostles abandoning him, he knew their spirits
were willing but their flesh was weak. He could understand why the Sunday
crowd that greeted him with palms and Hosannas abandoned him. It was the
allure of the novel and the desire for newness, a desire that quickly
fades in the face of the commonplace, in this case yet another crucifixion,
another hope lost. But why did God forsake him? Strange how the community
that is the Trinity, because of the Incarnation, is now aware of what
we fragile creatures experience when we feel that God has left us alone.
Abandonment now is not foreign to God because Jesus experienced all
things that we do yet never sinned. If this psalm was nothing but a laundry
list of pain and confusion, darkness and suffering, we could easily despair.
But there is a second part to the psalm Jesus quoted from the cross:
Praise the Lord, all you who fear him!
For he has not ignored the suffering of the needy.
He has not turned and walked away.
He has listened to their cries for help.
I will praise you among all the people
I will fulfill my vows in the
presence of those who worship you.
The poor will eats and be satisfied.
All who seek the Lord will praise him,
their hearts will rejoice with everlasting joy.
There are dark times in life, times that test our spiritual vision to
the breaking point. During such times we may not be able to see the presence
of God or hear his still, small voice calling to us above the din of our
own wandering heart. It is during these Good Friday periods in our lives
that we need to hold fast to all of Psalm 22. Yes, the first part was
uttered in darkness, but Good Friday was not the last word; the laments
of the first 21 verses are not the whole psalm. Just as the bloody cross
gave way to the empty tomb, so this psalm ends in 10 verses of hope and
joy and promise. Our God is not a God of abandonment. He does not play
mindless, masochistic games with our lives. We cost him far too much for
that. But he does allow the dark times because it is through just such
moments that we often grow the most in our relationship with him, growth
that never would have happened otherwise. A plant will not grow if all
it has is unlimited sunshine. There must also be days of cloud and rain
or nothing good comes from the buried seed. And so with us.
Perhaps you are going through just such a Good Friday event in your
life. It stings, it hurts, it feels as if God has abandoned you to find
your own way through. If so, then read all of Psalm 22, and remember that
the evening of that long ago Friday looked bleaker than bleak. But the
sun did rise again...and the Son rose as he said he would.
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