Sunday, April 5, 2009

Eli, Eli, Lema Sabachtani? - My God, My God, Why Have You Abandoned Me?

Today’s First Reading, from Isaiah (50:4-7) praises the LORD for having given the Prophet “a well-trained tongue to awaken the weary (or, in more contemporary language, a way with words that can pierce through their boredom. On the other hand, the Prophet acknowledges that not everyone who is aroused responds positively. Some of them behave like children who don’t want to get up for school. But he does not rebel, does not turn back. He sets his face like stone, like the Old Man of the White Mountains, knowing that God is with him, and he will never be put to shame in God’s sight.

The Responsorial is Psalm 22, a prophecy of the agony of Jesus, so accurate in its detail that Jesus cried out, in a loud voice, a line from Verse 2: Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? (My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?) It is well-worth printing out in full, and meditating upon it today and during the coming week.

Response: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

Everyone who sees me mocks me.
They sneer and shake their heads, saying,
Is this the one who relies on the LORD?
Then let the LORD save him!
If the LORD loves him so much,
let the LORD rescue him!”  R/

My enemies surround me like a pack of dogs;
an evil gang closes in on me.
They have pierced my hands and feet.
I can count all my bones. R/

They divide my garments among themselves
and throw dice for my clothing.
O LORD, do not stay far away!
You are my strength, come quickly to my aid! R/

 I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters.
I will praise you among your assembled people.
Praise the LORD, all you who fear him!
Honor him, all you descendants of Jacob!
Show him reverence, all you descendants of Israel!

Response: My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

In today’s Gospel, as reflected in the Psalm, we do not hear Jesus rebelling, or turning back, in spite of the genuine human feeling of abandonment which is expressed in the first line of the Psalm, which He cried out in a loud voice, according to the Evangelist’s account. (Medical authorities wonder how, after being scourged within an inch of his life, and forced to walk from Pilate’s palace to Golgotha, he found the breath and lung power -- A meditation for another time, perhaps).

The major theme of these readings, then, is the gentleness of Jesus contrasted with the resistance of human nature to truth and to innocence.

The root meaning of the word “innocence” is well represented by the motto of the physician, in that time, and in our own: Primum, non nocere -- First, do no harm. This is the lens through which we ought to observe Jesus while listening to the Gospels of Holy Week, not only the Passion, which we hear today and again on Good Friday, but the narrative of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, as he give us His Body and Blood to sustain us and strength us on our spiritual journey. Jesus lived and died doing no harm, and, even more pertinently, he did what he tells us is the greatest goal of the life of the Master, and of the disciple: Greater love than this has no one, except to give one’s life for a friend. You are my friends, if you keep my commandment. And my commandment is this: Love one another as I have loved you.

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