(This is the reflection on the 4th word which I contributed to the Catholic Website: www.anluwage.com)
From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.
About three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice: Eli, Eli, lema sabacthani?” which means, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.?”
Some of the bystanders who heard it said, “This one is calling for Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran to get a sponge; he soaked it in wine, and putting it on a reed, gave it to him and to drink.
But the rest said, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.” But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice and gave up his spirit.
Why have you forsaken me?
Thirty-six years ago, after I was arrested, tortured and imprisoned for seven months during the early years of martial law, I felt so alone and isolated. I felt abandoned by friends, by my family. God seemed so distant … even absent. It was the first time in my life when I doubted the reality of God’s existence.
I got a similar feeling twenty-four years ago, while I was alone on top of a mountain grieving after my mother was brutally killed, by military men.
It is natural that people who suffer so much often feel forsaken, abandoned.
The sick, those who are imprisoned, those who are poor, those who have lost their job or facing bankruptcy, children whose parents have gone away, or who is dying
They feel abandoned - by friends, their own family, by the government, by the church, and ultimately by God.
“Why have you forsaken me?”
This is the cry of those who suffer so much, those who feel alone, those who feel helpless. This is the cry of so many people all over the world, down through the ages.
This was also the cry of Jesus while hanging on the cross in Calvary.
Did Jesus really feel forsaken?
Perhaps he did. After being betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and deserted by his disciples as he was dying on the cross, Jesus must have felt forsaken. It was part of his being human. But Jesus was also echoing or reciting psalm 22 – a psalm of lament which expressed what he was going through. The psalm starts with these words:
My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish? (v. 2)
So wasted are my hands and feet that I can count all my bones. They stare at me and gloat; they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots. (v. 18-19)
But the psalm ends with a different note:
… then I will proclaim you name to the assembly; in the community I will praise you. (v. 23)… For God has not spurned me or disdained the misery of this poor wretch
He did no turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out. I will offer praise in the great assembly (v. 25-26)
While this psalm begins with what seems to be an expression of helplessness and hopelessness, it ends with an expression of hope and confidence in God who never forsakes or abandons those who suffer.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This is not a cry of despair or hopelessness. It may be a complaint but above all it is a prayer of someone in pain, who is filled with doubt, yet who remains hopeful that God is the God who saves.
In times of suffering, pain and grief we question where God is. Is God present or is God absent? Has God abandoned us or is God still with us?
The Paschal Mystery of Jesus has shown us that ultimately God is with us as we suffer, and God will save us even if he seems so far or absent.
Easter Sunday follows Good Friday. Light triumphs over darkness.
Today, darkness continues to dominate the whole land. Sin and evil reign in the hearts of people and have penetrated the societal structures and institutions.
The culture of death and the spiral of violence afflict our people.
Many continue to suffer and die.
There is so much corruption at all levels of government.
Many of our people continue to wallow in poverty.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?”
This is our collective cry.
Yet even as we cry out, we do not lose hope for we know that God is with us. He did not abandon his Son in Calvary, he did not abandon us in the past, he will never forsake us now or in the years to come.
“I will never forsake you, my people” This is God’s assurance.
Thirty-six years ago, after surviving torture and imprisonment and doubting God’s existence, I was released from prison with a faith deepened by adversity.
Twenty-four years ago, after my mother was killed and I once again doubted God’s existence, and wondering if the time has come to leave the priesthood and join the armed struggle, a great miracle happened – the miracle of EDSA that showed that God has not forsaken his people. God will never forsake his people.