Monthly Archives: September 2012

Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani

Of all the people living at that time, in that place, Jesus was the one closest to God. At least, this was his claim and the reason for his crucifixion. Accused of blasphemy, the High Priest and those with him charged Jesus with claiming to be equal with God. This they could not tolerate. God is unapproachable by the ordinary person and Jesus was certainly ordinary. He was not a Priest or a trained Pharisee. Only those born to the priesthood, whose lineage could be traced back to Levi and they were could be priests. Those who were Priest were given the privilege of serving in the temple and only one was permitted to enter the most holy place where God dwelled. He was an uneducated carpenter from the dirtiest, the most unclean corner of the country. However, he was followed by people, men and women, who were devoted to him, even calling him Messiah, the God promised savior of Israel. He was ignored by the Romans because he was no political threat to their sovereignty. He did, according to those who hated him, lead the people astray, telling them to worship God in ways not sanctioned by the traditions and thinking of the religious leaders. His motivations, his words and his actions suggest his relationship with God was different and strong.

Yet, here he hung, beaten, stripped of flesh by a scourge, bleeding, exhausted, nailed to pieces of wood, immovable and unable to do anything to alleviate his pain and torment. We do not know when exactly the torture began except it was the day he was crucified. He was approaching the end of his life. All he had to do now was die.

It was noon and “from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour” [Matthew 27:45 ESV]. Passover is celebrated during a full moon. It is impossible for the moon to eclipse the sun because it is facing the sun. It is in the wrong position. There is no adequate explanation for darkness at this time. Was it a cloudy day, threatening rain, making the day cold and increasing the discomfort of those hanging from the crosses? Three of the four documents tell about the darkness. Considering the reliability of the accounts this far, for what we have studied, there is no reason to suggest it was not dark. That there are no other documents which describe the darkness is not pertinent nor evidence to refute the historical accuracy given.

Jesus’ relationship with God, the extent of his injuries, the length of time spent on the cross, and the darkness, probably amplified and exacerbated his emotional state. He cannot move, except to lift himself by his feet using the nails impaling him so he might breathe another gasping, rasping, desperate breath. No one could help him. He was surrounded by people who loved him, who were watching him die, and with people whose purpose was to insure he died. He was mocked and reviled. His body was traumatized and exposed. He was near death. His only hope was God. Then he cries out, as best any man could under his circumstances. “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani” [Matthew 27:46 ESV]? His words are in Aramaic. They mean “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” [Matthew 27:46]? Jesus felt abandoned by God.

Is this an unusual thing for anyone to say who has devoted his life to knowing God? Yet, his words suggest more than simple emotional desperation of one facing eminent death. There is more to him, more to what is happening, more to the outcome of his death than what is on the surface. On the surface he should not be hanging from a cross. There was no reason for the High Priest or the religious leaders to demand his execution. On the surface both Pilate and Herod found nothing in him deserving death. On the surface, everything he had done to this point helped people. He hurt no one. On the surface he is an innocent man persecuted for suspect reasons, condemned to death based on false evidence, unjustly executed by an unjust authority acting against his better judgment. If we could see all of history how many people would we find who endured similar circumstances and results, persecuted for no true reason, reviled and mocked, murdered? Probably many. But, there is something more to this man.

As usual, he is misunderstood by those standing nearby. Though he had cried out in a loud voice they thought he was crying out for Elijah. And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, ‘This man is calling Elijah'” [Matthew 27:47]. There are two possible explanations for their misinterpretation. Either they did not understand him as he spoke to God because his voice was garbled and forced, or they continued mocking him. “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down” [Matthew 27:49 and Mark 15:36 ESV]. God will not answer this man, perhaps Elijah will. To those mocking Jesus the evidence God did not answer Jesus’ cry, did not help him or keep him from dyeing was evidence they were right in their judgment of him and he was wrong. What more justification do they need to dignify and legitimatize their criminal acts? Jesus is a fake. Not even Elijah will come to his aid.

How utterly mistaken they are. Jesus died. All of the evidence says he died. All of the evidence also says he rose from the dead. There is more to this man than the misunderstood and mistaken beliefs of those who hate him or mock him.

Those Who Loved Jesus

Finally, there is another group of people standing before the cross who are defined by their love for Jesus.

All of Jesus disciples ran away, hiding themselves from the authorities, abandoning him to those who hated him. One returned coming to the place of execution viewing the cross upon which his teacher and friend was now dying. We make a strong assumption John is the disciple who stood near the cross and watched Jesus die. He is the one who wrote the document with his name attached. Only in this document will we find Jesus’ words spoken to his mother and his disciple. Although Jesus spoke several times from the cross this is the only time he directs his words toward someone standing as witness.

Next to John, perhaps near the cross, though the guards would shove people away so the spectacle might be witnessed by all, were a group of women. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” [John 19:25 ESV]. Matthew increases the number of the group of witnesses. There were also many women there, looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him, among whom were Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee” [Matthew 27:55-56 ESV]. Jesus’ mother was one in this group. His aunt was also there, his mother’s sister, as was Mary Magdalene. That all of the women were named Mary has generated much confusion. Discussion through the centuries has tried to identify each of the women with other historical characters and those mentioned in other historical documents.

Here is what we can know for certain. Of the people witnessing the agony of Jesus at least three women and one man loved him deeply. One of these women was Jesus’ mother and the man was a disciple of Jesus. We do not need to know why she was in Jerusalem though the Passover festival is enough reason. They are witnesses to the agony Jesus endured while on the cross.

It is the end of Jesus’ life. He is hanging on a cross, suspended by nails through his hands (wrists) and feet. His arms are probably bound to the cross beam for the weight of his body could easily tear through the weakness of his arms and feet and drop him to the ground. He struggles to breath, to think, to speak. His words will come only in short, gasping phrases. He is not going to preach a sermon or deliver a discourse in this position. It is unreasonable to expect such. It is reasonable for him to make short statements.

He sees his mother standing near. We can only assume their emotions based upon our own, the sympathy and empathy we might feel under similar circumstance. She is his mother. Like a mother she will not leave her son alone no matter the hideous and horrific torture inflicted upon him. She cannot. Though her heart break, her emotions overcome her ability to stand or speak or even breath, though her heart is gripped with fear and hopelessness, she will not leave. Neither will the others who are there leave. Their loyalty to him and complete love for him is enough explanation to believe they were truly there.

Jesus spoke directly to two of these witnesses. He uses the term “Women” for his mother. This is a term of respect and honor not derision or distance. In this term he acknowledges her humanity. He knows she is his mother, the woman who gave birth to him, who raised him and taught him and then had to let him go to fulfill his duty. He is the firstborn with duty toward his family as well as the world in which he lived. He, seeing her, takes care of her. “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother! And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” [John 19:26-27 ESV]. John was standing next to her with his own mother standing next to them. Without hesitation, in spite of the circumstances, he fully and unequivocally took upon himself the responsibility given. He now stood between two women, both his mother.

Under the extraordinary circumstances there is nothing out of the ordinary in what was happening. There is no reason to believe these people were not there or that Jesus did not say what he did.