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"My God my God, why have you forsaken me?"

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 30 November 1988 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. According to the Synoptics, Jesus on the cross cried out aloud twice (cf. Mt 27:46, 50; Mk 15: 34, 37); but only Luke tells us what he said when he cried out the second time (cf. 23:46). The first cry expresses the depth and intensity of Jesus' suffering, his interior participation, his spirit of oblation, and perhaps also his prophetic-messianic understanding of his drama in the terms of a biblical psalm. Certainly the first cry manifests Jesus' feelings of desolation and abandonment with the first words of Psalm 2: "And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, 'Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?' which means, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?'" (Mk 15:34; cf. Mt 27:46).

Mark quotes the words in Aramaic. One may suppose that the cry appeared so characteristic that the witnesses who heard it, when later recounting the drama of Calvary, deemed it opportune to repeat the very words of Jesus in Aramaic. It was the language spoken by him and by the majority of his contemporary Israelites. They could have been relayed to Mark by Peter, as happened in the case of the word "Abba" (cf. Mk 14:36) in the prayer of Gethsemane.

2. The fact that Jesus, in his first cry, used the initial words of Psalm 22 is significant for various reasons. Jesus was accustomed to pray following the sacred texts of his people. There must have remained in his mind many of those words and phrases which particularly impressed him, because they expressed better man's need and anguish before God. In a certain way they alluded to the condition of the one who would have taken upon himself all our iniquity (cf. Is 53:11).

Therefore on Calvary it came natural to Jesus to make use of the psalmist's question to God when he felt completely worn out by suffering. But on Jesus' lips the "why" addressed to God was also more effective in expressing a pained bewilderment at that suffering which had no merely human explanation, but which was a mystery of which the Father alone possessed the key. Therefore, though arising from the memory of the Psalm read or recited in the synagogue, the question contained a theological significance in regard to the sacrifice whereby Christ, in full solidarity with sinful humanity, had to experience in himself abandonment by God. Under the influence of this tremendous interior experience, the dying Jesus found the energy to utter that cry!

And in that experience, in that cry, in that "why" addressed to heaven, Jesus also established a new manner of solidarity with us who are so often moved to raise our eyes and words to heaven to express our complaint and even desperation.

3. But by hearing Jesus pronounce his "why," we learn indeed that those who suffer can utter this same cry, but with those same dispositions of filial trust and abandonment of which Jesus is the teacher and model. In the "why" of Jesus there is no feeling or resentment leading to rebellion or desperation. There is no semblance of a reproach to the Father, but the expression of the experience of weakness, of solitude, of abandonment to himself, made by Jesus in our place. Jesus thus became the first of the "smitten and afflicted," the first of the abandoned, the first of the desamparados (as the Spanish call them). At the same time, however, he tells us that the benign eye of Providence watches over all these poor children of Eve.

4. In reality, if Jesus had the feeling of being abandoned by the Father, he however knew that that was not really so. He himself said, "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30). Speaking of his future passion he said, "I am not alone, for the Father is with me" (Jn 16:32). Jesus had the clear vision of God and the certainty of his union with the Father dominant in his mind. But in the sphere bordering on the senses, and therefore more subject to the impressions, emotions and influences of the internal and external experiences of pain, Jesus' human soul was reduced to a wasteland. He no longer felt the presence of the Father, but he underwent the tragic experience of the most complete desolation.

5. Here one can sketch a summary of Jesus' psychological situation in relationship to God.

The external events seemed to manifest the absence of the Father who permitted the crucifixion of his Son, though having at his disposal "legions of angels" (cf. Mt 26:53), without intervening to prevent his condemnation to death and execution. In Gethsemane Simon Peter had drawn a sword in Jesus' defense, but was immediately blocked by Jesus himself (cf. Jn 18:10 f.). In the praetorium Pilate had repeatedly tried wily maneuvers to save him (cf. Jn 18:31, 38 f.; 19:4-6, 12-15); but the Father was silent. That silence of God weighed on the dying Jesus as the heaviest pain of all, so much so that his enemies interpreted that silence as a sign of his reprobation: "He trusted in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, 'I am the Son of God'" (Mt 27:43).

In the sphere of feelings and affection this sense of the absence and abandonment by God was the most acute pain for the soul of Jesus who drew his strength and joy from union with the Father. This pain rendered all the other sufferings more intense. That lack of interior consolation was Jesus' greatest agony.

6. But Jesus knew that by this ultimate phase of his sacrifice, reaching the intimate core of his being, he completed the work of reparation which was the purpose of his sacrifice for the expiation of sins. If sin is separation from God, Jesus had to experience in the crisis of his union with the Father a suffering proportionate to that separation.

On the other hand in quoting the beginning of Psalm 22, which he perhaps continued to recite mentally during the passion, Jesus did not forget the conclusion which becomes a hymn of liberation and an announcement of salvation granted to all by God. The experience of abandonment is therefore a passing pain which gives way to personal liberation and universal salvation. In Jesus' afflicted soul this perspective certainly nourished hope, all the more so since he had always presented his death as a passage to the resurrection as his true glorification. From this thought his soul took strength and joy in the knowledge that at the very height of the drama of the cross, the hour of victory was at hand.

7. A little later, however, perhaps under the influence of Psalm 22, which again came to the surface in his memory, Jesus uttered the words, "I thirst" (Jn 19:28).

It is easy to understand that these words of Jesus refer to physical thirst, to the great agony which is part of the pain of crucifixion, as the experts in these matters tells us.

One may also add that in manifesting his thirst Jesus gave proof of humility, by expressing an elementary need, as anyone would have done. Also in this Jesus expressed his solidarity with all those, living or dying, healthy or sick, great or small, who are in need and ask at least for a cup of water (cf. Mt 10:42). For us it is good to think that any help given to one who is dying, is given to Jesus crucified!

8. But we cannot ignore the evangelist's record, the one written that Jesus uttered the words, "I thirst," "to fulfill the Scripture" (Jn 19:28). These words of Jesus have another dimension beyond the physico-psychological. Once again the reference is to Psalm 22: "My throat is dried up like baked clay, my tongue cleaves to my jaws; to the dust of death you have brought me down" (v. 16). Also in Psalm 69:22 we read: "In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink."

The Psalmist's words treat of physical thirst, but on the lips of Jesus they enter into the messianic perspective of the suffering of the cross. In his thirst the dying Christ sought a drink quite different from water or vinegar, as when he asked the Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar: "Give me to drink" (Jn 4:7). Physical thirst on that occasion was the symbol and the path to another thirst, that of the conversion of the Samaritan woman. On the cross, Jesus thirsted for a new humanity which should arise from his sacrifice in fulfillment of the Scriptures. For this reason the evangelist links Jesus' "cry of thirst" to the Scriptures. The thirst of the cross, on the lips of the dying Christ, is the ultimate expression of that desire of baptism to be received and of fire to be kindled on the earth, which had been manifested by him during his life. "I came to cast fire upon the earth and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!" (Lk 12:49-50). Now that desire is about to be fulfilled. With those words Jesus confirmed the ardent love with which he desired to receive that supreme "baptism" to open to all of us the fountain of water which really quenches the thirst and saves (cf. Jn 4:13-14).


After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese 

J’ADRESSE UN CORDIAL salut aux visiteurs et aux pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience.

En particulier, je voudrais dire tous mes vœux aux religeux de Saint-Vincent de Paul qui font en ce moment une halte de ressourcement spirituel. Que ce temps de retraite auprès des tombeaux des Apôtres vous aide à renouveler en profondeur votre vie religieuse et votre apostolat!

A tous, je donne volontiers ma Bénédiction Apostolique. 

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I OFFER A WARM welcome to all the English-speaking visitors, especially those from England, Wales, Sweden, Denmark, India, Australia and the United States. As the Season of Advent begins, the Church’s Liturgy helps us to prepare ourselves for the coming of our Saviour. We are invited to open our hearts to the Redeemer of the world. May Advent be a time of many blessings for you and your dear ones. To all of you I gladly impart my Apostolic Blessing.

A due gruppi giunti dal Giappone 

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

SALUTO IL COMPLESSO musicale di Ubukata e i membri della religione “Tenri” di Ghifu.

Tanto la musica quanto la religione non hanno confini. Perciò, auguro a voi, cari giapponesi, che - con le melodie del “koto”, l’arpa giapponese, e con le vostre preghiere ferventi - possiate offrire un valido contributo per la pace nel mondo.

Plaudo, quindi, alle vostre attività costruttrici di pace e imparto di cuore a voi la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! 

Ai pellegrini di espressione tedesca 

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

MIT DIESER KURZEN Betrachtung grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Teilnehmer der heutigen Audienz. Das Leiden und Sterben Christi ermahnt uns sündige Menschen zu Buße und Umkehr. Dasselbe ist auch die Einladung der nun beginnenden Adventszeit. Zur würdigen Vorbereitung auf das Geburtsfest unseres Herrn erbitte ich euch reiche adventliche Gnaden und erteile euch und euren Lieben in der Heimat von Herzen meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola 

ME ES GRATO saludar ahora a todas las personas de l’América Latina y España presentes en este encuentro. Mi más afectuoso saludo se dirige en particular al grupo de Franciscanas Misioneras de la Madre del Divino Pastor, a quienes invito a ser signo constante de la llamada universal a la santidad y ejemplo de amor filial a la Virgen María. 

* * * 

ME COMPLACE TAMBIÉN dar mi cordial saludo al grupo de jóvenes estudiantes católicos guatemaltecos. Cercana ya la Navidad, sed portadores del mensaje del Papa a vuestra Nación y a los demás Países de Centroamérica: Que la conmemoración del nacimiento del Hijo de Dios, ayude a todos los habitantes de esos queridos Países, a ser promotores de unidad y convivencia pacífica cristiana.

A vosotros y a todos los presentes, imparto la Bendición Apostólica. 

Ai fedeli polacchi

SZCZEGOLNIE SERDECZNIE witam pielgrzymów z Polski: księdza biskupa Juliana Groblickiego; najszczególniejsza radóscią jest dla mnie obecność moich kolegów i koleżanek, z którymi wspólnie przed pięćdziesięciu laty zdawaliśmy maturę w wadowickim gimnazjum, a raczej w wadowickich gimnazjach. Będziemy wspominali z wdzięcznością dla Bożej Opatrzności to wydarzenie sprzed pięćdziesięciu lat, będziemy także wspominali tych spośród nas, którzy już zostali odwołani do wieczności, przed oblicze Ojca, zarówno naszych profesorów, jak kolegów. Prócz tego serdecznie witam pielgrzymów z parafii Najswietszej Marii Panny Matki Kościoła z Krakowa - Prądnika Białego; witam również grupą kolejarzy, PTTK oraz uczestników grup turystycznyych Orbisu, PKS, Turysty . . . Wszystkich obecnych tutay pielgrzymów serdecznie pozdrawiam i proszę o modlitwy w czasie Adwentu za siebie i za Kościół, i za Ojczyznę naszą. 

Ai gruppi italiani 

DESIDERO ORA RIVOLGERE una parola di saluto e di benvenuto al gruppo di pellegrini della Diocesi di San Benedetto del Tronto, accompagnati dal loro Vescovo, Monsignor Giuseppe Chiaretti, e venuti alla Sede di Pietro per ricordare il cinquantesimo anniversario di fondazione dell’UNITALSI. Per tale occasione, viene inaugurata la costruzione di un “Centro Servizi per Disabili”, di cui mi è stato chiesto di benedire la prima pietra. Esprimo voti che tale istituzione sociale e caritativa possa adempiere con successo i nobili compiti che si è prefissa. 

* * * 

UN CORDIALE SALUTO anche ai membri del comitato direttivo della “Gregorian University Foundation”, un’associazione statunitense di amici e benefattori degli Istituti Pontifici Romani della Compagnia di Gesù. Mi congratulo, cari Signori, per l’aiuto che date per la promozione della cultura religiosa e per l’evangelizzazione del mondo moderno mediante un’accurata formazione umana e spirituale. Il Signore vi ricompensi del bene che fate! 

* * * 

UN SALUTO ANCHE ai numerosi militari presenti: agli Allievi Ufficiali della Scuola del Genio in Roma-Cecchignola; ai militari della Scuola delle Trasmissioni in Roma; ai militari dell’undicesimo Battaglione Carri “Medaglia d’oro Calzecchi” di Ozzano dell’Emilia. Vi sono anche i partecipanti al Convegno di Formazione degli Operatori Sociali della Polizia di Stato. A tutti voi, che in vari modi siete al servizio dell’ordine pubblico, della sicurezza e del bene comune del Paese, il mio cordiale augurio che il Signore vi assista nel coscienzioso e coraggioso adempimento del dovere. 

* * * 

UN SALUTO, INFINE, alla delegazione di minatori della Miniera “Bois du Cazier” a Marcinelle, in Belgio, dove, come si ricorderà, nel 1956, per un grave infortunio, trovarono la morte 262 lavoratori. Mi avete chiesto, cari fratelli, di benedire un quadro di San Camillo da tenere in miniera e la cosiddetta “Lampada del ricordo”. Molto volentieri accolgo la vostra richiesta, mentre benedico tutti. 

A giovani, agli ammalati, agli sposi novelli 

RIVOLGO ORA il mio affettuoso saluto ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli, presenti a questa Udienza.

Miei cari, a voi, in particolare, consegno una delle esigenze caratteristiche dell’Avvento che stiamo vivendo: la saggezza nell’agire. Ci dice San Paolo: “Vigilate attentamente sulla vostra condotta, comportatevi non da stolti, ma da uomini saggi, profittando del tempo presente”.  L’oggi della vostra vita è dono e responsabilità.

L’Avvento vi aiuti a prenderne coscienza sempre più chiara. Fate che l’ascolto costante e personale della Parola di Dio porti nuova luce alle vostre intelligenze, nuovo calore al vostro cuore. Aprite itinerari di speranza in mezzo alla società in cui vivete, seminate germi di comunione nel tempo che vi è donato. Maria, sede della sapienza cristiana, vi porti più intimamente e più rapidamente al Figlio suo, Redentore degli uomini.

A tutti la mia Benedizione.

Il Santo Padre ha poi pronunziato le seguenti parole: 

Oggi, 30 novembre, la Chiesa cattolica e la Chiesa ortodossa celebrano la festa di sant’Andrea apostolo, fratello di san Pietro.

Come già negli anni scorsi, una delegazione della Chiesa cattolica, guidata dal Cardinale Giovanni Willebrands, Presidente del Segretariato per l’Unione dei Cristiani, si è recata al Patriarcato ecumenico, in Istanbul, per partecipare alla celebrazione della festa di sant’Andrea, che ha luogo al Fanar. Nel 1979 io stesso vi presi parte e conservo di quella visita un vivo ricordo. Per il tramite del Cardinale Willebrands ho inviato a Sua Santità il Patriarca Dimitrios I un messaggio di fraternità e di comunione. Proprio un anno fa, egli fece visita a questa Chiesa di Roma, partecipando nella Basilica di san Pietro alla celebrazione in onore di sant’Andrea. Come è noto, ogni anno il Patriarcato ecumenico invia a sua volta una speciale delegazione per le celebrazioni romane di san Pietro.

Affido alla vostra preghiera questa importante circostanza. Preghiamo perché questo incontro ecumenico, che si svolge nel segno della fraternità e della carità, rechi quei frutti che tutti noi ci attendiamo; affretti quella sospirata piena unità, per la quale il Signore ha pregato. La santa Madre di Dio, verso la quale la Chiesa ortodossa nutre una tenera devozione, avvalori questi nostri ardenti voti ed interponga la sua mediazione.

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