Psalm 22 is perhaps one of the best-known psalms by all Christians. It is the psalm Jesus prayed from the Cross. Like me, many of you know this psalm, at least its first verse, from childhood. When I was a child, the priests celebrating Holy Week in our noble town El Oso (Avila), usually a Dominican, preached every Good Friday Jesus’ Seven Last Words. Undoubtedly, the Fourth was always the most dramatic and mysterious: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34).  

Psalm 22 is a psalm of lament and of praise. Biblical scholars tell us that the psalms of lament are usually psalms of praise, too, as in the case of Psalm 22: the first part is of lament (verses 1-21); the second, of praise (verses 22-31).

The psalm begins with a mysterious lament: “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me? I call by day but you do not answer; at night, but I find no respite” (22:1-2). The Psalmist complains while affirming his faith in God: “My God, my God …”

Christ crucified prays Psalm 22, which is substantially realized in him: “My God, my God…; “My strength is trickling away…”; “My mouth is dry as earthenware, my tongue sticks to my jaw”; “I can count every one of my bones, while they look on and gloat”; “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (Ps 22: 1, 14-15, 17-18).

Jesus crucified and suffering terribly feels abandoned by God. No sugar-coating for this incredible fact: Jesus is abandoned by God the Father! Jesus as the Son of God could not be abandoned by God One and Triune (He is the second divine Person), but Jesus as the son of Mary, as the Man – as Christian Tradition interprets – was abandoned by God. The Lord Jesus Christ, “made in the likeness of man,” “wished to make his own the words of the psalm, as he hung on the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’” (St. Augustine). “So was the son left to die by the Father” (Tertullian).

Jesus on the cross does not complain of the abandonment of Pilate and of the Jews, of his executioners; nor does he complain of the abandonment of his disciples. He laments deeply the abandonment of the Father. To his Abba Father, Jesus is profoundly united and deeply pained when the Father abandons him. Why was Jesus abandoned by his Father? Because he was the victim to redeem us from our sins, to bestow grace on us and thus justify us: “That Christ died for us while we were still sinners is proof of God’s own love for us” (Rom 5:8).

Jesus accepted “absolute loneliness” to be close to the lonely and abandoned of the world, and thus show us the path of life we ought to follow: “Christ suffered for you and left an example for you to follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21); “You have been bought at a price, so use your body for the glory of God” (1 Cor 6:20). The abandoned Christ on the Cross is with all the abandoned of the world – the poor, migrants, refugees, women, born and unborn children, the elderly, and all those who before dying of the coronavirus Covid-19 felt utterly alone: no dear ones around, no friends, not even a blessing.

Lamenting, complaining to God for his absence is part of the life of a believer. Moses questions Yahweh: “Why do you treat your servant so badly” (Nb. 11:11). The people of Israel complain to God and Moses: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst” (Ex 17:3). There is the piercing lament of Job: “Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?” (Job 3:11). The prophets wail for the people of Israel: “Yahweh has abandoned me; the Lord has forgotten me” (Is 49:14).

Mary and the saints at one time or another felt – like Jesus – abandoned by God. Sooner or later in our own life, we experience the abandonment of God! The disciples are in the boat with Jesus and very much afraid of a great threatening windstorm. Like them we cry out to Jesus, who is asleep: “Master, do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mk 4:37-38). And we ask him: Why this misfortune, this cancer, this death of a child, the current genocides, the terrible Covid-19 pandemic? Why the terrible wars? How come that our dear God, the omnipotent and the infinitely compassionate God does not intervene?

Mysterium doloris, the mystery of suffering is part of our pilgrimage through life! God our Father does not answer those questions directly but, in his crucified Son Jesus Christ, illumines, gives meaning to our sufferings – and hope. In our hour of darkness, we believe that God is love and know that He loves us, and that with his love we can suffer patiently, perhaps even joyfully, although this is much more difficult. Incredibly consoling words from God to us all: “Can a woman forget her nursing child; or show no compassion for the child of her womb?  Even if these may forget, I will not forget you” (Is 49:15-16). By experiencing divine abandonment, Christ is close to us and we are close to him, and with his grace and love we are also close to the abandoned of our communities.

The cry of Christ from the cross is not a cry of despair – like the cry of Cain and Judas – but a cry of faithful hope, a prayer for God’s mercy: “Rescue my soul from the sword”; “Save me from the lion’s mouth” (Ps 22:20-21). We believe that the cross, our cross is the cross of salvation, of hope, of the coming resurrection. Good Friday points to Easter Sunday: the abandoned Crucified Lord is the glorious Risen Lord.

Mother Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us!