Psalm 22 - My God, my God

1) My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2) O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
3) Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4) In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
5) To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
6) But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
7) All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
8) “Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
9) Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
10) On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11) Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
12) Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13) they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14) I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
15) my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16) For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
17) I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;
18) they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
19) But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
20) Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
21) Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
22) I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23) You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24) For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
25) From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
26) The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
27) All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
28) For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
29) 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.
30) Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
31) and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
Psalm 22 (NRSV)
1st Sunday of Lent, Year A
2nd Sunday of Lent, Year B, verses 23-31
Good Friday
5th Sunday of Easter, Year B, verses 25-31
Proper 7, Sunday between June 19 and June 25, Year C, verses 19-28
Proper 23, Sunday between October 9 and October 15, Year B, verses 1-15

Christians inevitably hear this psalm in the context of Jesus hanging on the cross. The gospels of Mark and Matthew have Jesus quoting the opening words, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" as he is suffering, and they report them as his "last words." It is unclear whether those words are meant to stand alone, or as a way to "quote" the entire psalm.

Thankfully, few of us will have the opportunity to recite this psalm while being tortured to death. Perhaps you have been lucky enough to never have a time where you felt like an outcast, like no one was on your side, and where even God did not speak to your distress. Yet even if we are not in such extreme circumstances, we can read and pray this psalm in solidarity with those who cry by day, but get no answer, and who find no rest by night.

That is a hard place to be. The psalm indicates that this is a lonely, and a painful place. The "words of my groaning" speak of physical, as well as emotional pain.

Indeed, the times I have experienced these words outside of church have been with people experiencing God-forsakenness. With a friend and pastor dying of cancer, and wondering why her expected healing did not arrive. Sitting with the stories, and the bones, of hundreds of murdered people, many who perished knowing there was no escape.

I know better than to speak for them. But we know that feeling abandoned is a hurtful place, and more so when the one not showing up is someone we trusted, someone we have relief on for love, for care, for protection. When we desperately need help, rescue, or simply someone to be with us, and the one we counted on to "have our back" is missing in action...

The words of the psalm seem to describe starvation. The psalmist is near death, scorned by their enemies, surrounded by dogs waiting to devour their dying flesh. Rescue is not in sight.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? I need help now, so why are you so far from helping me?

The ending verses lift up the Lord according to the hoped-for and expected salvation. The psalm believes that it will come. We hope and pray. That is the voice of faith.

But we should not rush past the more difficult, more painful, unresolved position of suffering and danger.

The psalm is a plea for God to show up. There are times when we are beset, and this can be truly and authentically our prayer. When we are not in that place of imminent danger, the psalm is best read as a plea for us to show up.

Deliver my soul! Save me!

Credits:
Willoughby Wallace Hooper, Forsaken, Two abandoned children in the Bellary district of the Madras Presidency, 1877. Getty Center, Los Angeles, public domain {{PD-1923}}.

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