Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Abandoned By God

It is one of the most emotional of all verses in the gospels.

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”

“My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?

Jesus is alone, suspended between heaven and earth on the cross. He has been abandoned by His disciples. He is mocked by all those who see Him, even by the thieves crucified alongside Him. In the height of agony, He feels abandoned even by His Heavenly Father. His feeling of rejection strikes right down to His identity as Son of God.

At that moment, He takes on the suffering of all those who are abandoned. He becomes one with those who are abandoned by society because they are unemployed. He becomes one with women and men who are abandoned by their spouses. Stripped naked, He shares the lot of those who are poor, hungry and homeless.  He joins His cry with children who are abandoned by their parents and are even killed in the womb. Every victim of violence, all those whom our society considers useless, all those who feel left out find in Jesus a brother, one who shares their suffering and one who takes their burden upon Himself.

We must be careful, however, when we hear Jesus scream out these words, “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” Though it is a cry of unutterable anguish and heart wrenching grief, it is not an expression of despair. Jesus feels abandoned, but He never fails to hope in His Heavenly Father’s goodness even as He suffers shocking cruelty and tortures.

Jesus’ cry from the cross is a quotation from Psalm 22 which served as our Responsorial Psalm today. It is the prayer of a man who is undergoing intense persecution. However, it is also a  prophecy of Jesus’ sufferings detailing how He would be ridiculed, how His hands and feet would be pierced and how the soldiers would cast lots for His clothing.

By reciting a line from this psalm, Jesus shows not only that He feels abandoned and alone but that He understands His sufferings in light of this prophecy. He is signalling to those who are witnessing His crucifixion - and to us who are remembering it here today - that He expects God to vindicate Him. On the cross, Jesus appears to be broken, humiliated and defeated. However, in the end, God will grant Him victory.

Notice how the psalm ends: “You, O Lord, are not far from me...I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you.” These are not the words of a despairing man. Rather, they express abiding faith and steadfast confidence rooted in the unfailing love of our Heavenly Father. This confidence is echoed in our first reading, another prophecy of Jesus’ passion from the prophet Isaiah: “The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.”

All of us gathered here today have been given a share in Christ’s cross. It could be an illness that we are facing. We might be living with the pain of a broken relationship or failed marriage. Some here may be grieving the loss of a parent, spouse or other loved one. Many here today may be burdened with loneliness or anxiety over life’s many challenges. Whatever burden we may be carrying, it is when we are feeling most alone and abandoned that Jesus is closest to us.

Remember, Jesus did not have to suffer and die. He could have prevented the soldiers from carrying Him off and He could have come down from the cross. As the saying goes, it was not nails which kept Jesus on the cross but love. It was out of love for us - especially for those of us who are suffering - that He accepted the Father’s will and gave His life in the most humiliating way imaginable. It was so that we would know what lengths God was willing to go for love of us, even though it was because of our sins that He would die.

Furthermore, he died on the cross to teach us that if we wanted to find Him, it would be among the poor and the suffering. If we are living a comfortable life, enjoying the world’s pleasures, and God seems distant to us, then it is time for us to go out to where He has chosen to make His home. It is time for us to go out, to live and to work among the poor, the homeless, the sick and the abandoned. When we encounter them and try to alleviate their suffering, then God will become real for us - not just a story in a book, not just a statue, not just an old man in the sky, but a living, breathing person who has chosen to disguise Himself in the elderly, the immigrant and the mentally ill.

Having reflected on God’s word, we now turn to this altar. We bring forth gifts of bread and wine which symbolize our joys and struggles, triumphs and defeats. Our Heavenly Father accepts them out of love for us and will transform them in the Body and Blood of His Son. The same body which was broken on the cross and the same blood which was spilled to forgive our sins will be made present here for us today. It is God’s undying pledge that He will vindicate those who have dared to hope in Him.  It is God’s undying pledge that He has not abandoned us but that He is with us always.

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