Friday, March 16, 2007

Borrowed Words Incoherently Spoken

Matthew 27:44-46

44 • And the robbers who were crucified with him
also reviled him in the same way.
45 • Now from the sixth hour
there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.
46 • And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice,
saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?"
that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

What has been spoken from the cross up till this point?
• The 'only one who knows what's going on' prays for everyone else.
• The man without a shirt on his back settles his family's affairs.
• The 'king for a day' makes a promise about tomorrow.

Thus far a line could have been traced through the words spoken by Jesus on the cross which would make some sense even to the casual onlooker who thought him to be deluded. If this were a show of defiance then it's magnificent and even if only mere delusion there is true grandeur and real pathos to be seen. But that sort of reasoning comes to a halt right here with the fourth word spoken from the cross.

Not just the mob and the authorities are against him, he is, to everybody's certain knowledge, at odds with reality even although there is a certain internal logic, up to this point, that can be traced. 'What would Jesus do?' we ask but if they ask, 'What will Jesus say next?' the answer will surprise them beyond measure. What the crowd is shouting is also following a line and it is very clear that the two lines are not parallel: sooner or later they must meet.

It is at this shocking juncture that the two lines do meet. The acting out of Psalm 22:7 and the taunt-song lifted up from Psalm 22:8 lead us to think that just perhaps a further text from Psalm 22 is suitable for a further flight of fancy from the centre tree? Maybe Psalm 22:26 will fit:

The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD! May your hearts live forever! [Psalm 22:26]
but instead the words that are borrowed from Psalm 22 come from the other end of the Psalm, from the Psalmist at his most disconsolate, from:

To the choirmaster: according to The Doe of the Dawn. A Psalm of David. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? [Psalm 22:1]
we hear words that, up until that 'Preparation Friday' no one had been prepared to hear from a Messianic pretender.

But putting aside all pretence that we are not reading this with the hindsight of knowing that he was the Messiah — the Resurrection rather spoils any other posture — we ought still to be shocked by the words. All we can do is to recognise that these words were placed in the experience of David the king (great ancestor of his greater son) so long before in anticipation of when the agony of Calvary would be so great as to necessitate recourse to a script of words to say what was at the heart of so great a death as he had to die.

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