CONSIDERATIONS ON THE PASSION OF JESUS CHRIST
Eli! Eli! Lamma sabacthani? My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?
St. Matthew writes that Jesus uttered these words with a loud voice. “Why did He thus utter them? Euthymius says that He thus cried out in order to show us His Divine power, inasmuch as, though He was on the point of expiring, He was able thus to cry aloud, which would be impossible to dying men, through their extreme exhaustion. Also, Jesus thus cried out in order to show us the anguish in which He died. It might, perhaps, have been said that as Jesus was both God and man, He had by the power of His divinity, diminished the pains of His torments; and in order to prevent this idea, He thought fit in these words to declare that His death was more bitter than any man had ever endured, and that while the Martyrs in their torments were comforted with Divine sweetness, He, the King of Martyrs, chose to die deprived of every consolation, satisfying the utmost rigour of the Divine justice for all the sins of men. And therefore Silveira remarks that Jesus called His Father God, and not Father, because He was then regarding Him as a Judge, and not as a son regards his father.
St. Leo writes that this cry of the Lord was not a lamentation, but a doctrine, because He thus desired to teach us how great is the wickedness of sin, which, as it were, compelled God to abandon His beloved Son to die without comfort, because He had taken upon Himself to make satisfaction for our sins. At the same time, Jesus was not abandoned by the Divinity, nor deprived of the glory which had been communicated to His blessed soul from the first moment of its creation; but He was deprived of all that sensible relief by which God is wont to comfort His faithful servants in their sufferings; and He was left in darkness, fear, and bitterness, pangs which were deserved by us. This deprivation of the sensible consciousness of the Divine presence was also endured by Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani; but that which He suffered on the Cross was greater and more bitter.
O Eternal Father, what offence had this Thy innocent and most obedient Son ever given Thee, that Thou shouldst punish Him with a death so bitter? Look at Him as He hangs upon this Cross, His head tortured with thorns, hanging upon the three iron nails, and supported by His own wounds! All have abandoned Him, even His own disciples; all deride Him upon the Cross and blaspheme Him; and why hast Thou abandoned Him, Who hast so greatly loved Him? We must understand that Jesus had taken upon Himself the sins of the whole world, although He was Himself the most holy of all men, and even Sanctity itself; since He had taken upon Himself to satisfy for all our sins, He seemed the greatest of all sinners; and having thus made Himself guilty for all, He offered Himself to pay the price for all. Because we had deserved to be abandoned forever in hell to eternal despair, therefore He chose to be given up to a death deprived of every relief, that thus He might deliver us from eternal death.
In his commentary on St. John, Calvin blasphemously asserts that Jesus Christ, in order to appease His Father, experienced all the wrath which God feels towards sinners, and felt all the pains of the damned, and particularly that of despair. O blasphemy and shocking thought! How could He satisfy for our sins by committing a sin so great as that of despair? And how could this despair, which Calvin imagines, be reconciled with the other words which Jesus uttered, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit (Luke xxiii. 46). The truth is, as St. Jerome and others explain it, that our Saviour uttered this lamentation to show not despair, but the bitterness He endured in a death without consolation. And, further, despair could only have been produced in Jesus Christ by a knowledge that He was hated by God; but how could God hate that Son Who, to obey His will, had offered Himself to satisfy for the sins of men? It was this very obedience in return for which the Father looked upon Him, and granted Him the salvation of the human race, as the Apostle writes: Who in the days of his flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence (Heb. v. 7).
Further, this abandonment of Jesus Christ was the most dreadful suffering in all His Passion; for we know that after suffering so many bitter pangs without complaining, He lamented over this, and cried with a loud voice, and with many tears and prayers, as St. Paul tells us. Yet all these prayers and tears were poured forth in order to teach us how much He suffered to obtain the Divine mercy for us; and to enable us at the same time to comprehend how dreadful a punishment it would be for the guilty soul to be driven from God, and to be deprived forever of His love, according to the Divine threat, I will cast them forth out of my house, I will love them no more (Osee ix. 15).
St. Augustine also says that Jesus Christ was troubled at the sight of His death, but that it was so for the comfort of His servants, in order that if they should find themselves disturbed at the hour of their own death, they should not suppose themselves reprobates, or abandon themselves to despair, because even He was disturbed at the sight of death.
Therefore, let us give thanks to the goodness of our Saviour for having been willing to take upon Himself the pains which were due to us, and thus to deliver us from eternal death; and let us labour henceforth to be grateful to this our Deliverer, banishing from our hearts every affection which is not for Him. And when we find ourselves desolate in spirit, and deprived of the sense of the Divine presence, let us unite our desolation to that which Jesus Christ suffered in His death. Sometimes Jesus hides Himself from the souls He most loves, but He does not really leave their hearts; He aids them with His inward grace. He is not offended if, in such an abandonment, we say, as He Himself said in the Garden to His Divine Father: My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. But at the same time we must add: Yet, not as I will, but as thou wilt (Matt. xxvi. 39). And if the desolation continues we must continue the same acts of conformity to the Divine will, as He Himself repeated them for the three hours during which He prayed in the Garden. St. Francis de Sales says that Jesus is as worthy of love when He hides Himself as when He shows Himself. Further, he who has deserved hell, and finds himself out of it, should say only: I will bless the Lord at all times (Ps. xxxiii.!2). O Lord, I do not deserve consolations; grant that through Thy grace I may love Thee, and I am content to live in desolation as long as it pleases Thee! If the damned could thus in their pains unite themselves to the Divine will, hell would be no longer hell to them.
But thou, O Lord, remove not thy help to a distance from me; look towards my defence (Ps. xxi. 20). O my Jesus, through the merits of Thy desolate death, deprive me not of Thy help in that great battle which, in the hour of my death, I shall have to fight with hell. At that hour all things of earth will have deserted me and cannot help me; do not Thou abandon me, Who hast died for me, and canst alone help me in my extremity. Do this through the merits of those pains Thou didst suffer in Thy abandonment, by which Thou hast merited for us that we should not be abandoned by the Divine grace, as we have deserved through our sins.