In passage today, Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1. In the Hebrew tradition of that time, to quote one verse was as good as calling to mind the entire Psalm. And certainly, Mark has had this psalm in mind. His description of what Jesus experienced, especially from the mocking crowds has links with Psalm 22. I encourage you to take time to read it for yourself.
PREPARE TO LISTEN. Sit in silence before praying, with Jesus: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? (Psalm 22:1)
READ: Mark 15:33-39 Station 5: Golgotha. “Jesus breathed his last”
33When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ 35When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, ‘Listen, he is calling for Elijah.’ 36And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, ‘Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.’ 37Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’
In those days of Roman rule, seeing and even staying to watch the agonizing death by crucifixion was common for many. No doubt, people had become inured to the victims’ agonizing screams of rage and curses and their helpless pleas for relief from the pain and slow death. They’d heard it all before, could do nothing about it and simply ignored it.
I wonder whether anyone noticed how differently and silently Jesus died. He never cried out in the typical fashion of the crucified victim. There was no cursing, no agonizing cries of pain and no pleas for help. Except one plea to God. In that awful moment he speaks, his first words since his trial by Pilate, calling to mind and quoting from Psalm 22.
Before we reflect on Jesus’ few words, notice the detail of the opening statement. Once again Mark ‘tells the time’—noon (which was the 6th hour of watch). For three hours (until the 9th hour) darkness descended over the whole land. Mark merely states this without comment. We’re to reflect and see it as a symbol of judgment on the land, reminiscent of the darkness “that could be felt” that descended on the Egyptians centuries earlier (Exodus 10:21f). This time the darkness was symbolic of the judgment of dominant world orders. The revolution to overthrow the ruler of this world had begun and continues today in God’s way and time.
It’s only at the end of that three-hours of darkness that Jesus invoked Psalm 22:1, his plea to God. “‘Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Jesus’ cry of desolation is beyond our capacity to fully grasp. There’ve been times when I felt like God had forsaken me and have made these words my own. But, my feeling of God’s absence wasn’t actual. God was there even though I couldn’t sense God in any way. Jesus’ didn’t merely feel as if God had forsaken him. He literally experienced the total absence of God. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ The cry was real for Jesus. It,s perhaps the most shocking and mind-boggling prayer in the entire New Testament.
The bystanders at the cross are not able to empathize with Jesus. They can’t bear such agony and instead choose to misunderstand his “hebraized Aramaic” version and assume eloi’ meant Elijah and that Jesus was asking Elijah to help him. There was a popular belief “that Elijah would come to the rescue of the godly in time of need” (Meyers 2015, p. 389). Of course, there is no relief for the crowd in the form of a rescuer like Elijah. The crowd are forced to watched as the agony deepens and Jesus once again cries out for the last time and then dies. We don’t know what he said this time. By not giving us Jesus’ actual words, Mark draws us in emotionally, inviting us to imagine what he might have said just before “he breathed his last.” What you think Jesus said will tell you something about yourself.
There is a second symbolic act of judgment in the story, this time on the Jewish religious system. The veil in the temple that separated people from the very holy presence of the Lord God was ripped in two signifying that the way to God was no longer in the control of the religious leaders. The way to God’s presence was now open to all, including Gentiles. It’s at this point, Mark gives his second climax in the words of the Roman centurion: “Truly this man was God’s Son!” The second half of Mark focuses on proving that Jesus is God’s Son. The ultimate proof, according to Mark? Jesus’ death on the cross. This is something to think about as we reflect on our pictures of Jesus.
“See from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down: Did e’re such love and sorry meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?” (Isaac Watts)
Sometimes we reduce the significance of the cross to mean individual personal salvation and nothing more. Yes, it does mean that, but it means so much more. It began a revolution against the world powers, including ours today. God’s kingdom has come, and the world has changed. What role are you going to play in this new world order that Jesus inaugurated?
RESPOND TO JESUS IN PRAYER
Jesus, may my gratitude for your work on cross be evident in how I live out your kingdom values in the world today. Amen.
GO AND LIVE IN OBEDIENCE TO CHRIST who died on a cross.