Jesus dying on the Cross

Jesus dying on the Cross

As Jesus was dying on the cross, he echoed the beginning of Psalm 22, which reads:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why are you so far away when I groan for help?
Every day I call to you, my God, but you do not answer.
Every night you hear my voice, but I find no relief. (vv. 1-2)

In the words of the psalmist, Jesus found a way to express the cry of his heart: Why had God abandoned him? Why did his Father turn his back on Jesus in his moment of greatest agony?

On this side of Heaven, we will never fully know what Jesus was experiencing at that moment. Was he asking this question because, in the mystery of his incarnational suffering, he didn’t know why God had abandoned him? Or was his cry not so much a question as an expression of profound agony? Or was it both?

Theologians offer the thought: What we do know is that Jesus entered into the Hell of separation from God. The Father abandoned him because Jesus took upon himself the penalty for our sins.

In that excruciating moment, he experienced something far more horrible than physical pain. The beloved Son of God knew what it was like to be rejected by the Father.

As we read in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The Gospels of Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34 relate that it was in the ninth hour, after three hours of darkness, that Jesus cried out this fourth word.

The ninth hour was three o’clock in Palestine. Just after He speaks, Mark relates with a horrible sense of finality, “And Jesus uttered a loud cry, and breathed his last” (Mark 15:37). One is struck by the anguished tone of this expression compared to the first three words of Jesus.

This cry is from the painful heart of the human Jesus who felt deserted by His Father and the Holy Spirit, not to mention his earthly companions the Apostles.

Religion scholars say that by calling out to God, Jesus showed us that he could be vulnerable. He showed us that he was human.

In today’s society, many people are afraid to be vulnerable because they think it may be mistaken for weakness.

But showing our sensitive side, according to theologians, is actually a sign of strength. It shows people that we’re not afraid to admit that we have shortcomings because we know that God loves us anyway.

By calling out to His Father, Jesus showed us that He’s no different from us. He was scared. And at that moment, He cried out in fear to His Father.

Why did His Father turn His back on Jesus in His moment of greatest agony?

We will never fully know what Jesus was experiencing at this moment. He was suffering alone on the cross and it seems as if His loving Father had stayed away from Him.

No one was able to reach out to Him. His only consolation now was the prayer He learned from His mother and He recited the psalm taught by Mary when He was young. Yet, this was the moment of trust for Jesus in His loving Father.

He knew very well that His Father will not abandon Him. Let us remain with Jesus in His loneliness on the Cross.

The fifth word, I thirst, is the only time that Jesus speaks of his physical suffering and pain. It is a reminder that the Passion is not only a spiritual reality, a cosmic happening. It is a bodily act, the crucifixion of a man’s body. He suffers, he falls, he bleeds, he thirsts.

The suffering, sweating, bleeding, thirsty body of Jesus is not an abstraction or a principle; it is a reality.

That reality puts us in touch with all of reality. A time of pandemics reminds us that we are bodily creatures, that our bodies can suffer. We are told that one of the symptoms of the coronavirus is a shortness of breath, and crushing pressure upon the chest. Jesus experiences something similar, if more extreme, hanging upon the Cross.

The bodily thirst of Jesus reminds us immediately of the exchange in Matthew 25 (37, 40): “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’”

The judgment of Matthew 25 is the great charter for the corporal works of mercy. There are seven of them (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2447):

To feed the hungry

To give drink to the thirsty

To clothe the naked

To shelter the homeless

To visit the sick

To visit the imprisoned

To bury the dead

One measure of the diabolical character of this coronavirus is that exactly when the corporal works of mercy are most necessary — to visit the sick, to bury the dead — we are unable to do so.

The fifth word: “I thirst.” Gospel of John 19:28. The fifth word is His only human expression of physical suffering, with Jesus now in shock.

The wounds inflicted upon Him in the scourging, the crowning with thorns, and the nailing upon the Cross are now taking their toll, especially after losing blood on the three-hour walk through the city of Jerusalem to Golgotha on the Way of the Cross.

Studies on the Shroud of Turin, reported by Gerald O’Collins in Interpreting Jesus, indicate the passion of Jesus was far worse than a man could imagine.

The Shroud has been exhaustively studied by every possible scientific method, and the scientific burden of proof is now on those who do not accept the Shroud as the burial cloth of Jesus.

According to the Benedictine nun, Sr. Mary John Mananzan, the Fifth Word of the Seven Last Words of Christ is the most human sentiment uttered by Jesus.

He has just been whipped, crowned with thorns, made to bear his Cross, fallen three times along the way, nailed to the Cross, prompting Him to be thirsty. He took upon himself all the characteristics of being human and thirst is the one common need that every human being experiences.

But Christ’s thirst, according to the Benedictine, was not only physical. It is the agonizing cry of one who is surrounded by blindness, hardness of heart, and cruelty.

He had given his life trying to bring people to the living water, to the water that would satisfy all the deepest wishes of their hearts. But what he got was rejection, indifference, and lack of understanding to the very end.

At a deeper level, His thirst was for the consolation of His oneness with His Father, who allowed him to feel a separation that wrung out from Him the cry: “My God, My God, why have You abandoned me”?


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