Psalm 22

Psalm 22 is a central text for understanding how the Gospels interpreted the suffering and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thirteen Old Testament passages appear in the passion narratives of the Gospels; five come from Psalm 22 including citations found in Matthew, Mark, and John, from verses 1, 7, 8, 15, and 18. The best-known connection is Jesus’ cry from the cross, the first sentence of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” According to the traditions of that time, to cite the first words of a biblical passage was a way of identifying with the entire text. What was the message of this Psalm that was so crucial for the writers of the Gospels?

Psalm 22 was composed as a liturgical Psalm describing, not an instance in the life of the psalmist, but a model of affliction and abandonment who becomes one with all who cry out for deliverance from life threatening trouble. Verses 1-21 describe a person who feels abandoned by God, cruelly mocked by others, and viciously attacked by his evil adversaries. Having lost all power, that person voices a desperate cry for help. Verses 22-31 then follow with a song of praise and universal celebration for salvation and glorification provided by God. How is such a transition possible?

The psalm can move from tribulation to jubilation because of the words found at the very opening: “My God.” This Psalm pictures God as a human father who takes a baby as it comes from the womb and places it on the mother’s breast providing nourishment and security. That kind of heavenly care is available to the afflicted one who seems to bear the agony of all humankind and that kind of heavenly love is able to transform unbearable pain into eternal joy.

As the gospel writers understood, the story of this psalm is the story of the passion of Christ: God has faced death itself and come away with victory; God has taken a crucifixion and turned it into a resurrection. The good news for us this Lenten season is that God is still in the resurrection business.

Prayer: My God, My God, in our moments of hopelessness and desperation hear our cries to you, for you alone have the power to change our night into day and our death into life eternal. Amen.

Tom Graves