“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This sentence of the Gospels (Not in John, but in Matthew and Mark) will be irritating some of us. “Why”, “forsake” these words do not fit to Jesus, the Son of God, who taught the people to trust God and do his will. This Jesus cries out in fear and despair on the cross “… why have you forsaken me.”
It is really questionable:
Did Jesus lose his trust and hope in God?
Was Jesus not a God? Was he a human only?
Yes, there are many questions…

I think to understand these questions, we should do two important steps:
at first, we should examine the correct meaning of the words.
secondly we should understand the context.

1. The meaning:
These words comes from Greek and Aramaic root:
We hear ‘Eli’ (hebrew) in Matthew or in Mark ‘Eloi’ (Aramaic) and both means “My God”.
Aramaic was the language in Judea, which Jesus also spoke, until Hebrew was revived and became the common language around AD 132. But he used from time to time Greek language, like ‘Talitha Kum’, ‘Ephphata’, ‘Abba’… .
We hear in the Gospel of John, that some Greeks seek Jesus (12, 20f). Or the sign on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” was written in three languages ​: Hebrew, Greek and Latin. That means, his listeners were from different cultures and in Palestine lived people from mixed races at that time.

Then comes the important word for us. ‘láma, or léma’ in the Gospel is translated as ‘WHY’. But some biblical scholars think it is not an apt word. Then, in the Bible there are many lamentations prayers and psalms. They use often this ‘láma’ (How so) and not Maddùa (Why). Then there is difference in meaning: Maddūa asks for an objective justification of certain action and láma asks for the meaning of the event.

This can be seen not only in the Bible, but in our daily life too.
Many people working in the nursing field (in foreign countries), will know this for sure. Theoretically, the nurses may not use the patients ‘why’. They should rather ask: ‘How’. Then ‘why’ is a simple question which may sound a little arrogant and impersonal. But ‘How so’ asks for the cause. There is an attempt to examine and analyze the issue with more readiness to understand.

In this sense, we may come to the conclusion that Jesus used ‘léma’ as ‘How so’ and tries to understand the cross. It is not a question of desperation but he tries view everything as the will of God.

2. The context of the prayer:

If you pray the beginning of the Psalms, you pray virtually the whole Psalm. Such a common understanding was there in Israel.
In this sense, Jesus prayer is not just a prayer out of his frustration,
but he prays the Psalm 22, with a lamentation.
“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me.”

But then we see, that this Psalm reveals the suffering of the Messiah.
“All who see me mock at me;” ( v7); “my mouth is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;” ( v15) …
“My hands and feet have shrivelled;” (16) “I can count all my bones.”(17)
“they divide my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots. “(18)

And this ends with faith in the mighty God :
“But you, O Lord,… my help, come quickly to my aid!”(19)

“I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: “(22)
“future generations will …. proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn,
saying that he has done it.”(30-31).

Through these words, it is clear, Jesus is praying the psalm. Even if it starts with the search for the meaning of suffering and it ends with the words of strong confidence in God.
In this context, the death of Jesus gets a different meaning. Because he dies not as a desperate man, but with strong faith in his Father in heaven.
In this way Jesus gives us an example for our lives.
Can we too face our pains so? Let us ask God’s grace for that. Amen!

–Thomas Kalathil

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