Forsaken (Mark 15.21–47)


Mark 15.21–47 narrates the death and burial of Jesus Christ. It is a sparse, unsentimental narrative. The only theological comments are ironic. A sign placed on top of Jesus’ cross proclaimed, “The King of the Jews.” When Christ died, a Roman centurion exclaimed, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” A crucified king. A murdered deity. What little explicit theology Mark includes in his narrative undoes most of the theology we have learned.

Martin Luther distinguished the “theology of glory” from the “theology of the cross.” The former emphasizes God’s greatness, power, and invincibility. The latter draws attention to God’s smallness, weakness, and vulnerability — characteristics on full display in the crucifixion of God’s beloved Son, especially the vulnerability.

The word vulnerable literally means “able to be wounded.” Christ’s wounds were physical, of course, but his cry of dereliction indicates the wounding went much farther down. “My God, my God,” he cries out to the Father, “why have you forsaken me?” On the cross, Christ felt utterly alone, abandoned by his friends and forsaken by God.

And yet, even with this cry of dereliction, Christ displays his faith in God. As a Jew, Jesus learned his prayers from the Psalter, the hymnbook of Israel. “My God, my God” is the first line of Psalm 22, a lament. It accurately prophesies Christ’s predicament:

Do not be far from me,

for trouble is near

and there is no one to help.

 

Many bulls surround me;

strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

 

Roaring lions tearing their prey

open their mouths wide against me.

 

I am poured out like water,

and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

it has melted away within me.

 

My strength is dried up like a potsherd,

and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

you lay me in the dust of death.

 

Dogs have surrounded me;

a band of evil men has encircled me,

they have pierced my hands and my feet.

 

I can count all my bones;

people stare and gloat over me.

 

They divide my garments among them

and cast lots for my clothing.

But the psalm does not end with despair, but with praise.

 

For God has not despised or disdained

the suffering of the afflicted one;

he has not hidden his face from him

but has listened to his cry for help….

 

The poor will eat and be satisfied;

they who seek the LORD will praise him—

may your hearts live forever!

 

All the ends of the earth

will remember and turn to the LORD,

and all the families of the nations

will bow down before him,

 

for dominion belongs to the LORD

and he rules over the nations….

 

They will proclaim his righteousness

to a people yet unborn—

for he has done it.

In his suffering, Christ’s teaches us how to suffer too. With honesty pain, and with God-drenched hope. Christ’s death is unique, of course, in that we are saved by it. But following him also means imitating his pattern of suffering, not to mention experiencing his resurrection in our own lives.

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