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This month, we are sharing a reflection from Dwayne Eutsey, Coordinator for the Christianity Inner Circle:
From Mark, chapter 13. Jesus has been arrested, sentenced to crucifixion, whipped, and crucified mostly naked before a mocking crowd.
34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).
35 When some of those standing near heard this, they said, “Listen, he’s calling Elijah.”
36 Someone ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down,” he said.
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
The thing that gets me about these four verses from the earliest Gospel is the apparent despair and futility Jesus is experiencing here.
After hanging nailed in humiliation to the cross for hours, he calls out to God in an anguished cry: “Why have you forsaken me?”
Compounding his profound sense of abandonment and despair are all those passive spectators gathered around at the foot of the cross watching him die like people today watch reality TV shows. They even misunderstand his dying words.
Then Jesus cries out loudly and dies.
That’s what’s commemorated by many Christians on Good Friday: the brutal, sacrificial death Jesus made to appease God and save humankind from hell.
But, as a Jesuit scholar once asked in a class I had, was that kind of death on the cross necessary to accomplish that? Had Jesus preached what he traditionally preached and lived as he traditionally lived, but then died of pneumonia or food poisoning, would that have changed the Gospel message?
Something to ponder.
Personally, I think Jesus called his followers to be the authentic person he believed God created them to be, not the false self they were conditioned to believe they were. He taught that they can remain true to that authentic self through the most trying and despairing challenges because, he believed, God would be with his followers (even in the midst of pneumonia, food poisoning, or being nailed to a cross (or the Romans sacking Jerusalem).
But does Jesus believe that in this passage from Mark, where he cries out in such despair? I think so. As I mentioned during the last meeting, the cry of Jesus wondering why God has forsaken him is actually the bleak opening lines from Psalm 22:
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?/Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?” The Psalm ends on a positive note, however: “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,/and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn/saying that he has done it.” Maybe this indicates that Jesus, even in the agonizing spectacle of crucifixion, was putting his faith in what he had preached even as he died (at least in Mark’s interpretation of his death). Regardless, it undermines the notion that God demanded the brutal and sacrificial death of Jesus in order to atone for the sins of humanity.
For me, that’s a more hopeful and relevant way to look at Good Friday than the sacrificial lamb interpretation.