BE DONE (Our Father, Word by Word)

April 19, 2011 | 25 comments

Our Father who art in Heaven, Hallowed Be Thy Name.
Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done

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”?

Dr. John Bergsma recently wrote a fascinating post called Why Must the Messiah Die? (hat tip to New Advent), where he makes the point:

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)


  1. LaNeshe

    You definitely have to be prepared for his will when you ask things be done in his will. I ask each time I pray that God have his will in my life, and that is a scary thing lol, but I have to trust that whatever his will is, it is part of his plan for me.

  2. Julia at LotsaLaundry

    “Thy will be done” is the hardest prayer in the world. I’ve said it holding a child in anaphylactic shock, while praying we’ll get to the hospital in time. I’ve said it with a mentally ill teenager who doesn’t respond to meds and is in danger of death. And I think the only way one can choke it past the cry of despair that clogs the throat is trusting that whatever God’s will is — as enigmatic and painful as it might be — it must triumph over mine to lead us in to triumph.

    • Ed

      “And I think the only way one can choke it past the cry of despair that clogs the throat is trusting that whatever God’s will is — as enigmatic and painful as it might be”

      – I think the key word here is “trust”.
      I suffered terribly two years ago (i barely want to remember it it was so bad – we’ve all been there – various health problems and scares). But how the suffering has changed me in the long-run and made me, paradoxically, a happier person. But when i was in near-desperation, all i could say to myself was “trust in God – God really does exist – and whatever happens, as long as you trust in God, try and love Him and others as best as you can, despite the suffering, things will turn out alright in the end, however that “end” ends ..” – thank God, they did. Thank God (but a part of me, at the time, couldn’t imagine in a million years that they would – at least with the unset of the suffering).

      I now know, we have to go through a scorching, a kind of purgation, and when i’m in a really positive mood, i think of it like God scorching off all the cheap and harmful elements, to reveal underneath, gold (and i say this for all, equally – we’re all potential gold). But when i’m not in such a positive mood, i’m not able to see tbe suffering in such a positive light ..

      Trust in God anyone who is suffering terribly right now (especially if you’re at a point where you can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel). And God bless.

  3. Allie

    This was one of the most fascinating things I learned in RCIA…then managed to forget about. Thank you so much for posting it so eloquently!

  4. Katherine

    Thank you for this.

  5. Liesl

    What a perfect post for Holy Week! I just went to a discussion tonight on the joy of the cross, and thinking about God’s will and the ending of Psalm 22 just brings it all together!

  6. Jane M

    Psalm 31 is also fascinating since around verse 5 it includes the line “into thy hands I commend my spirit”. Was Jesus reciting the psalms in his head while he died? And occasionally letting bits out?

  7. Claire

    I love reading things that give me a big light bulb moment, and this was one of those times. I’ve always wondered what it meant when Jesus cried out in that moment – but Psalm 22, wow. Just wow. Thanks for sharing that insight – it’s given me a lot to ponder tonight.

    Thank you!

  8. Kristin

    I LOVE this! What a beautiful, triumphant way to look at that last remark – that it wasn’t simply Jesus crying out in agony, but reminding any who heard him that HE was the one prophesied about in that same Psalm, that it was all according to God’s will, and that the end result is known! Amen! Thank you for this post, Jennifer – an eye-opener for me, and perfect timing.

  9. Calah

    This is such a beautiful post. I’ve really been trying, lately, to pray “Thy will be done” and to mean it, no matter what that means for me in the immediate future. I know that God’s inevitable will for me and my family is that we would join Him in eternity, and I know that that is worth any suffering we must experience here on earth. But those words are so hard to choke out sometimes, still.

  10. magda

    Well, I love this!

  11. Fr Joseph

    The interpretation of Ps. 22 given in this post has been around for a while, and even though it is thought-provoking and even consoling, I don’t think it reaches the heart of the mystery. If Christ were merely pointing us to the happy ending of the psalm, He was selling us short. Jesus’ kenosis, or self-emptying, was real, total, and ineffably profound. He experienced, in a way beyond our understanding, a sense of separation from the Father, with whom He was united from all eternity. But this was not simply the result of the intensity of his suffering of body and soul. It was an act of taking upon Himself the utter depths of human despair, in a way from which He could not detach Himself, as if He could say to Himself: Here I am taking human despair into Myself. No, it was a real experience.

    How could it be otherwise, since He loved us so much? If Jesus did not really experience a kind of separation from his Father that made Him cry out in agony (and since He was steeped in the Scriptures, He would pray in those words whether or not He intended to direct us to the conclusion of the psalm), to whom shall we turn when WE experience separation from God? We have to know that Jesus went that way before us, experienced OUR despair, OUR agony, OUR sense of total aloneness under the crushing weight of the sufferings of this life. THEN we can read the end of the psalm, knowing that we can put our trust in Him—not just because He prophesies a happy ending, but because He loved us to the utter extreme of sharing the deep and horrifying consequences of our own sin and alienation from God.

    I wrote just yesterday in my own blog: Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” This was not simply an expression of his own ineffable anguish and agony, nor was it only a recitation of a psalm that ended in triumph and praise. Jesus bore in Himself every suffering, every sin of mankind, in the face of his Father’s righteous judgment, even the depths of human despair (so we can never say that Christ does not know what we go through). As He overcame our fallen nature’s rebellious will by first experiencing it—“take this cup from me”—but then saying “not my will but Yours be done,” He also overcame the damning weight of human despair—“why have You forsaken me?”—with his dying words of utter trust: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” I think we will never understand fully the vast extent and profound depths of what Jesus really did for us in the mystery of our redemption… Let us, during this Holy Week and always, strive to discover the ever-deeper truth of what it means that our Lord Jesus Christ has loved us “to the end.”

    • Ed

      I really recommend people to read Archbishop Fulton’s Life of Christ. Brilliant book on Jesus – an important part of which makes the point Fr Joseph does here. And it’s written for a general audience (not just for theologians).
      Along with a book on how to pray, no other Christian book (except for the Bible, of course) has brought me closer to God, and in particular to Jesus, than this book. Brilliant. Completely essential reading.

  12. Kimberlie

    I have never heard this view before. I also like Fr. Joseph’s comment. I am glad to have something really good to ponder as I head into Holy Thursday and Good Friday. Definitely will be pondering.

    I have prayed “Thy will be done” but in my human frailty, I think that I always half expected that what I am saying “yes” to isn’t really what God wants, then I find myself shocked and a little annoyed when I have to actually go through with what I said “Thy will be done” to. Pathetically frail faith, I know.

    Lord have mercy!

  13. priest's wife

    wow—this series has been really though-provoking. Thanks!

  14. Shannon

    If we Christians knew all the psalms as well as we know Ps. 23, we wouldn’t be so surprised at quotations or allusions to them throughout the gospels. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” is a wonderful psalm to pray when there are no words, and even if you can’t quite stomach the “happy ending,” the grief and despair and depth of feeling are huge and, in this gospel, put us in touch with the heart of God.

  15. Louise

    Wow, amazing post! I echo priest’s wife — I am benefiting enormously from this series. Beautiful timing, too, as we start the Triduum. So much to reflect upon.

  16. Theresa

    I think it is both that Jesus is experiencing excruciating pain and separation from the Father as well as that he is referring us to the Psalm. But I do feel like the reference is often overemphasized as if Jesus is giving us some kind of professorial exegesis from the cross. I think Jesus is speaking more from his pain, but that is just my opinion!

  17. Stan Beck

    Thy Will be done.

    A whole new meaning for me. Three years ago after 50 years as a “just enough, maybe” Christian I came fully to the Lord. Started witnessing and teaching the Good News.

    Last summer I wound up in the apartment of a meth head who had just shot up the house next door from the street. I was praying and talking, trying to get him to give himself up to the police and I just about had him there when a change came over him. He got between me and the door and picked up a baseball bat and told me that I would never be able to tell the police it was him. He straight out told me i was going to die.

    I looked up and prayed “Lord, I have done what you asked, I have no idea where we are going from here. But if I am to die here let it be your will, but i ask that this cup pass from me and if it can’t please God, no pain.”

    I looked the poor kid in the eyes and said “Go ahead. Kill me. I don’t care because I know where I am going, to heaven and I look forward to it. Tonight or next week doesn’t matter to me.” The shocking thing to me is that I believed it.

    His face changed, he pout down the bat and slide it across the room and said “Get out!”

    My reaction was first relief and then disappointment. I wouldn’t be going Home tonight.

    2 Hours later he shot it out with the cops….he lost but survived. Some day I hope to forgive him face to face.

    Was I in danger? Definitely. Would he have killed me? No doubt. Was I saved by God. Amen

  18. Anastasia Mosley

    – I think the key word here is “trust”. But I do feel like the reference is often overemphasized as if Jesus is giving us some kind of professorial exegesis from the cross.

  19. Richard Hale

    The best possible feeling on this earth (millions of dollars, best selling book, etc.) is about a 3. Euphoric Bliss in the presence of God (after death if he so sees fit) comes in at 100. This is a crude and crass comparison but the magnitude of the numbers in relation to each other are accurate.

    I’ve been working on a cover version of “Sympathy for the Devil” and
    thought some of the more deeper thinkers might find lines 2 and 3 (cc)

    (2) “I’ve been round for many long years, bought souls, saved lives and Faith.”
    (3) “I watched with glee as Christ was nailed to a tree, lost his faith,
    dreaded death and pain.”

    I do cite some scripture in the margins of this extremely nasty piece
    (Matt 6:13, Luke: 18:31-33, Psalm 22). As an aside that may amuse some
    I tried to do “Highway to Hell” but got physically ill so I’m leaving
    that one alone.

    I believe both sides of the theological interpretation are true to
    some extent w.r.t. the question at hand. I would caution against stating GOD is unable to do anything (including creating and destroying the universe in the blink of an eye – he is the alpha and omega – beginning and end of all space time).

    One other point I have not yet seen mentioned is that Christ was Incredibly Intelligent and the use of the first line of Psalm 22 was his intent as was
    his Divine Suffering for our sins. Both interpretations are, to some degree true.

    We have a Dualistic GOD who has created a Dualistic Universe so we should
    expect two things being true at once in many situations. I suppose the formal term for this is “Quantum Logic” which will probably have enough
    books written about it to fill a library.

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