Why, Eli? - A Reflection on Matthew 27:11-54
“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?