April 05, 2020 (Sunday) - Why, Eli? - A Reflection on Matthew 27:11-54

From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many. Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

“Eli, Eli, lema sabachtini?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” My soul hurts every time I read about this heart-wrenching cry, and I suspect yours hurts too. It appears that Christ, up there on the cross, has been forsaken by his Father, and wonders, despairingly, why his Father has stopped loving him; why abandonment is the reward for his obedience. But is this really what happened?  It might be a good thing to reflect upon this on this special day.

First let us look at what this cry can’t be. One, it can’t be that the communion between the Father and Son had been ruptured, because Father, Son and Spirit could never stop being one. Two, it can’t be that the Father had stopped loving the Son, especially not after Jesus’ great act of obedience that arose out of his own love for the Father.

Three, it can’t be that the Holy Spirit had ceased to empower Jesus. Unlike in the Old Testament where he was given to people for a specific mission for a specific time, the Holy Spirit was there to remain on our Lord, and this would continue until the end. Four, it can’t be a cry of despair, because Jesus would know, without a shred of doubt, that his Father had his back, and promises made would be fulfilled.

So, why then did he cry that he was forsaken? Because he was. Despite everything we just declared, as Jesus hung upon the cross he was forsaken. For that moment in time and space, he was sin. He stood condemned as a sinner and he must pay the ransom in full and that included God shutting his ears to him. This is why Jesus doesn’t call his Father “Abba”, as he always did, even in the Garden of Gethsemane. He calls him Eli, which means Almighty God. Jesus hung there on that cross as a sinner, and he cried out “Why?”

Why did he cry “Why”? He knew this was gonna happen, no? Yes, but what he felt at that moment still came as a shock. He hadn’t comprehended how dreadful this was — a sinner in front of God, and God turning his face! And then he was dead, and it was over. The temple was torn in two, from top to bottom, as the perfect sacrifice was made and man could once again enjoy God’s company as he once did in Eden.

Let us not take this for granted, shall we?