A New Take on Jesus’ Cry from the Cross
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Hard to find a more memorable line from the Gospels, surely. Sermons galore have fixed on the saying, and whole theologies built upon it. Typically, it’s read as “Jesus’ cry of despair” pure and simple. Often, today’s Gospel of Mark scholars love it as confirmation of GMark as a dark, brooding, ambiguous text that promotes failure, weakness, death . . . real “film noir” stuff. Preachers often cite the statement to contend that in Jesus’ death “God turned his back on Jesus,” making for real drama. Theologians often probe the saying as suggesting some kind of intra-Trinity drama, a kind of separation of Father and Son in Jesus’ death, etc. Heady stuff!
Occasionally, scholars have noted that the cry is also a quotation of Psalm 22:1, and have wondered if this makes a difference, especially as Psalm 22 actually combines a “righteous sufferer” theme with a rather upbeat and confident thrust and ending. So, might these words on Jesus’ lips actually be intended to have him die citing scripture, and citing a passage that expresses confidence that God will not in fact leave the sufferer forsaken, but will vindicate him, enabling him to “procalim your name to my brothers” (Psa 22:22), so that “all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD” (22.27)? I.e., is this a cry of despair or does it show Jesus dying as a devout Jew, placing his confidence in God’s final vindication?
Well, one of my former PhD students, Holly Carey, took on this question and produced an excellent thesis addressing it and a number of inter-related issues. It’s been published, and I hope will acquire the readership that it deserves:
Holly Carey, Jesus’ Cry From the Cross: Towards a First-Century Understanding of the Intertextual Relationship Between Psalm 22 and the Narrative of Mark’s Gospel, LNTS, no. 398 (London: T&T Clark, 2009).
Holly’s study contends (persuasively in my view) that the citation of Psa 22:1 in the Markan crucifixion account is much richer and rounded than has been recognized. Without denying at all the emphasis on redemptive suffering in GMark, she shows that the text also expresses a positive and confident theme of divine vindication . . . of Jesus and of the intended readers. She fully engages critical scholarship, and produces a nuanced and carefully reasoned case that I believe must be regarded as the starting point for any future discussion of this classic text.