At the last moment on the Crucifixion, the Gospels recorded the words of Jesus. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “It is finished.” And in the Gospel of Luke, “Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit.”
From these words, we could see the perfect faith of Jesus himself. Even at the very last minute, he never lost his faith; completely trusted the hands of God, knowing what he must do was done.
In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, however, it seemed we could see the opposite reaction. Instead of faith, he expressed the words of despair. Jesus cried out loud:
“Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” That is to say, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
We can see the difference in each Gospel:
When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.John 19:30
And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.Luke 23:46
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?Matthew 27:46
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? which is, being interpreted, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?Mark 15:34
Why did he shout the words of despair? Why did he think God had forsaken him? There are several interpretations.
Reciting Psalm 22
Well-known is the orthodox interpretation that Jesus recited the Words of God from the Old Testament. It was the verse in Psalm 22. Even at the very last minute, he did not say anything for his own sake. His complete sacrifice (God’s Sacrifice) was selflessly done.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?Psalm 22:1
As we know, Psalm 22 ends with the praise of God. It uses the rhetorical parallelism of Hebrew poetry, contrasting two opposite perspectives. Psalms and Proverbs are significant in this style.
Contrary to the pessimistic beginning, the latter part of Psalm 22 sounds so positive and grateful:
My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him. The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever. All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord : and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations. All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul. A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation. They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.Psalm 22:25-31
Even at the very last moment, Jesus quoted and recited the Words of God to praise the Lord for the completion of His Love and Sacrifice.
The Agony of Judas Iscariot
Another interpretation is that on the Crucifixion, Jesus himself had to experience not only physical pain but even emotional and spiritual pain.
What is the emotional and spiritual pain? It is despair.
It is a recognition that God does not exist; even He does, which is totally irreverent to ours, just like the universe exists without our concerns at all. We call it nihilism and narcissism. Or, it is a realization that He has totally forsaken us, as Jesus expressed his agony on the Crucifixion.
In the complete Sacrifice of God, Jesus even experienced such spiritual torment, including a sense of guilt and shame. For its completion, God’s love must reach and embrace the despair of Judas Iscariot.
(Still, another interpretation is on the Gospel of Judas. Among disciples, only Judas understood the true meaning of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ at that moment. That was why Judas “assisted” Jesus to complete God’s Sacrifice. Is that so? We don’t know. The Last Temptation of Christ was on this stand. )
Going back to the second interpretation, it was indeed Judas’ betrayal, selfishness, and weakness, which agonized Judas himself eventually.
Judas expected that Jesus should save the people of Israel from various sufferings in this world, even politically. He hoped that Jesus should be like King David, who brought triumph to the people of Israel. That was why, Judas angrily expressed his opinion when Mary wasted an expensive ointment to wash the feet of Jesus, insisting that they could sell it and give the money to the poor.
Then took Mary a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.
Then saith one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, which should betray him, Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.
Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day of my burying hath she kept this. For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.John 12:3-8
Judas was a man of justice with a sense of righteousness. He sincerely wanted to help the poor and oppressed. So, he was frustrated with the mysterious, ethereal words and acts of Jesus at that time.
Like everyone else, Judas was a sinful person to be saved. Judas was indeed a symbol of our weakness and selfishness. He was unnoticeably selfish in trying to be selfless and righteous. He expressed what he thought of right angrily for the sake of what he thought of justice. He trusted and believed in Jesus. In the end, however, Jesus completely disappointed Judas.
Often, we are like Judas. We betray and blame others and ourselves in despair. Even we hate and kill others and ourselves.
Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, Saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself.Matthew 27:3-5
We are such a weak and sinful person like Judas Iscariot. Everyone has his or her Judas within. Jesus had to experience the same existential, spiritual agony on the Crucifixion that Judas suffered so as to forgive everyone’s Judas within, by shouting, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?“
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