On Sunday we heard Jesus speak the words, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet, not as I will, but as you will.”
Thy will be done, he says. And then he is abandoned, betrayed, ridiculed, tortured and nailed to a cross.
This is what always makes me a little nervous about the subject of God’s will: Though God never actively wants suffering for us, sometimes it is his will to permit it to happen. Sometimes it’s even really, really bad suffering. And so how can we ever get up the courage to say honestly, “Thy will be done”?
Jesus cites Psalm 22 from the cross. The so-called “Cry of Dereliction,” (“My God, My God …”) is, of course actually the first line of Psalm 22.
I think Jesus’ cry from the cross is over-read theologically sometimes, as if it indicated that Jesus felt utterly separated from the Father or lost the Beatific Vision.
I do not contest that Our Lord’s sufferings were extreme, and difficult for us to comprehend, but the Cry of Dereliction is not proof that he lost the Beatific Vision or experienced radical separation from the Father.
The psalms in antiquity were almost certainly not known by their present numberings, because the numbering systems varied according to different editions of the psalter (for example, Qumran’s 1QPalmsa). The way to refer to a psalm was probably by its first line — a practice similar to the traditional Jewish naming of biblical books by their first words (also done in the Catholic tradition with Papal documents).
So when Jesus cites “My God, My God…” from the cross in today’s Gospel, he is really making a reference to all of Psalm 22, inviting the bystanders to interpret what is happening to him in light of this psalm.
With that in mind, fast forward to the end of Psalm 22. How does the Psalm end?
This is one of the more interesting ideas I’ve heard in a long time, that perhaps Christ’s cry from the cross was as if he were saying, “Psalm 22!” It encapsulates so much more than the specific moment of unfathomable suffering that the Lord was enduring. In fact, it unlocks the whole mystery of God’s will and tragedies. It makes sense of how a loving God could permit all the bad things that happen in the world, and gives us the confidence to pray without hesitation, “Thy will be done.”
So how does Psalm 22 end? On a note of triumph. It is a joyous statement of the truth that God brings good out of every evil, a reminder that there is nothing so terrible that God cannot bring good out of it; not even the murder of his beloved Son. It tells us one of the most important truths we can know: that to say “Thy will be done” is to proclaim a joyous expectation of the triumph of good.
All who sleep in the earth will bow low before God;
All who have gone down into the dust will kneel in homage.
And I will live for the LORD; my descendants will serve you.
The generation to come will be told of the Lord, that they may proclaim to a people yet unborn the deliverance you have brought. (Psalm 22:30-32)