Why Have You Forsaken Me?
As we quickly approach Holy Week in the Christian calendar, our attention turns increasingly to the passion and crucifixion of Jesus. According to the Gospel accounts, one of the last phrases that Jesus spoke while suffering on the cross is a recitation of the opening line of Psalm 22: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Even Jesus, whom Christians hold to be the Son of God, experienced feeling forsaken by his Heavenly Father. And the words of the Psalmist go further, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.”
As I reflect on the plight of the undocumented immigrant in the United States today, I wonder if the words of the Psalmist, echoed by Jesus on the cross, don’t hit a little too close to home.
Despite the courage and passion and tireless work of Dreamers and undocumented workers and family members and faith allies, the U.S. House of Representatives has turned a deaf ear, and the president’s administration continues a pace of deportation rarely seen in the history of humanity.
Every day of delay means more families torn apart, more undocumented workers suffering sexual abuse and wage theft, and more children crying themselves to sleep because mommy or daddy is gone. With legislation is going nowhere fast, hope and anticipation have given over to anger and groaning.
To be honest, for many involved in the movement for immigration reform, God may seem absent. Prayers may seem to be falling on deaf ears. Is God ignoring the groans of God’s people? May we not join Jesus’ cry from the Cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken us?”
One of the common practices during the times of Jesus was for students of scripture to memorize entire chapters and psalms. So reciting a first line of a Psalm would be a signal to both the speaker and the listeners to not only consider the words spoken, but also remember the entire text. Keeping this in mind, Jesus’ recitation of Psalm 22:1 must not only indicate the depth of Jesus’ suffering and isolation, but also take into account the crescendo of the Psalm, found in verses 27-31:
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.”
So perhaps even in desperation, in groaning, in the feeling of forsakenness, there is cause for Hope. For in the end, God does hear, God does act, and God does rule over nations and peoples. Borders and nations and leaders will come and go, and in the end God’s power shall reign supreme. In the end, God’s deliverance will be proclaimed to future generations, and we will all rejoice that just immigration reform shall pass, proclaiming “God has done it!”
This doesn’t negate the angst of the waiting, or minimize the horror of the current injustice. The hope that God would prevail, the promise of resurrection, did not make the cross any less grueling for Jesus.
And any attempt to put a stop watch on when God will act, or setting arbitrary deadlines or windows, will likely lead to even more disappointment and frustration.
Still, for people of faith, we are reminded by Psalm 22 that even in the darkest hour, the hope of a new day is just around the corner. God will act. And we are committed to staying in the struggle in anticipation of that great day of rejoicing. God will do it!
Troy Jackson is Director of Ohio Prophetic Voices, and was formerly senior pastor of University Christian Church (UCC) for 19 years. He is part of Sojourners’ Emerging Voices project.