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My God, why hast thou forsaken me?


The King James Version of the New Testament says:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?

                         Matthew 27:46, King James Version

However, the translation  "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" just doesn't seem tell the whole story.

Jesus seems to have lived every moment totally immersed in God's Divine Presence, and according to the Gospels seems to have been fully aware of the entire plot that would eventually lead to his crucifixion. He could have run away before the soldiers came to get him, but he apparently chose not to resist, and went along with the whole plan without hesitation or self-pity.

So, perhaps the King James translation has missed the point of this quotation. Could there be an alternative translation that offers some new insight into this remarkable situation?

Since translation is more of an art than a science, it is often useful to consider other translations and to also look at the ancient roots of the words. Here are two translations from Aramaic, which was probably the language that Jesus spoke:

 

And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried out with a loud voice and said, Eli, Eli, lmana shabachthani! which means, My God, my God, for this I was kept!

                  Matthew 27:46, translated by George Lamsa

 

And about the ninth hour, Jesus cried with a loud voice and said, "God, God, why have you spared me?"

                          Matthew 27:46, translated by LWM

Those translations from the Aramaic, while controversial and strikingly different from the King James Version, seem to be much more in accord with the principles and ministry of Jesus' life, since Jesus taught us to rise above the narrow confines of self-centeredness and self-pity in order that we may live every moment of our lives loving God and loving one another.

For some further insight into interpreting the words of Matthew, here is a brief summary of a rather lengthy article by  Rev. Wayne Clapp who suggests that either the Greek or the Aramaic could be interpreted in an alternative manner: 

There is probably no scripture more misunderstood than Jesus’ cry from the cross, "My God. My God. Why hast thou forsaken me?" Did Jesus Christ really utter these words? Would Jesus have accused his heavenly Father of such an act of desertion? Did God really abandon His only begotten son as he was dying on the cross?

The difficulty with Matthew 26:47 is due to an error in translation. "Forsaken" is the wrong choice for the translation in this verse.

"Eli" means "my God." Lama, or lemana means "why" or "for what purpose" and always introduces a question. It occurs 53 times in the Aramaic-English Interlinear New Testament (#1584) and it is translated "why" 45 times, "what" 5 times, and "for what purpose" 3 times. "Sabachthani" comes from sebaq meaning to leave, forgive, allow, reserve, or spare.

The Greek word translated forsaken, greek forsaken can mean to leave in the sense of forsaking and abandoning, or to leave in the sense of sparing or allowing to remain. The context determines the meaning.
                                                             
                           by Rev Wayne Clapp


Regardless of whether we read the Greek or the Aramaic, the appropriate translation will depend upon one's own point of view. That is, would Jesus have felt forsaken as customarily depicted in the King James translation, or was he fully aware that a Divine plan was being fulfilled by his death? Was it a time of anxiety and isolation or just another day at the office?

It is very interesting to note that the Greek text of Matthew attempts to preserve the original words of Jesus. For some reason, there was a deliberate decision to preserve the only these few original words of Jesus. Why all the attention to these words?

Even more intriguing is the fact that in the Greek text, these words have been first transliterated into Greek phonetics and then followed with the exact same phrase translated into Greek. Why did the Greeks record this passage in both Aramaic and Greek? Perhaps to assure that someday the correct translation would be fully understood despite the potentially confusing translation of Jesus' words into Greek?

Some say that Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22, however the Hebrew words in Psalm 22:1 are somewhat different from the words in Matthew 27:46, yet as we read the entire Psalm, it becomes apparent that the goal of this seemingly dreary Psalm is not to wallow in self-pity, but it is intended to help us to rise far above our own self-centered despair and focus our attention on the eternal wonder and glory of the Divine Presence.

So, if in fact Jesus' words were an echo of this Psalm, perhaps Jesus was proclaiming that he, just as the psalmist, had overcome his self-pity and was living every moment in the glory of God.

The crux of this matter is: Was Jesus expressing self-pity? or was he giving us a greater message?

To me the answer is clear... Jesus knew that he was being betrayed, and could have easily gone into hiding rather than being captured, but he did not. Rather than run or hide, Jesus went peacefully and lovingly  into the hands of his captors knowing that he would be crucified.

Jesus knew exactly what was happening. He knew of his impending death. He could have escaped to avoid capture, but he did not run away. In fact, he stayed and even threw a big dinner party to celebrate the occasion. Clearly, Jesus chose to go along with whole plan, knowing full well that he was to be crucified. Does that sound like someone who would feel forsaken?

On the contrary, Jesus showed us that he would not be distracted from his ministry of Love where the greatest of principles is to rise above one's own self-centered concerns in order to "Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart..." (Luke 10:27).

Jesus told us, and showed us, that we must rise above our self-centered concerns such as selfishness and self-pity. Jesus told us: "No servant can serve two masters". (Luke 16:9-13)  That is one of the great messages of the crucifixion. Self-centered concerns such as possessions and money will all come and go, they can never offer any lasting happiness, only the Divine Presence of God offers everlasting peace and joy.

Those who choose to put their ego, their body, or their possessions above God will indeed suffer and cry in self-pity and self-made torment, while those who put God above themselves will see the glory of God everywhere and will thereby discover both true love and life eternal.

When one is able to see the works of God in life, another world is opened before one; then a man does not look at the world as everybody else does, for he begins to see not only the machine going on but the engineer standing by its side, making the machine work. This offers a still greater interest, the greatest interest in life. If one were to be flayed or crucified one would not mind, for one rises above all pain and suffering, and one feels it worthwhile to be living and looking at this phenomenon that gives one in one's lifetime the proof of the existence of God.

      from The Sufi Message of Hazrat Inayat Khan, Volume XI, Nature

On that day of crucifixion, while showing all of mankind an example of selfless action, confident of his eternal life, Jesus cried out in joy, excitedly wondering what God would do with him next, wondering what wondrous adventure God had in mind for him next, saying:

   My God, My God, for what am I being set free?

which might be paraphrased as:

   My Sweet Lord, what great works will we do next?


And most importantly, these inspiring words are not merely a comment from 2000 years ago, but if we are courageous enough these words are guidance for each of us today, encouraging us to fearlessly give whatever we have for the glory of God, eager to see how God's plan will unfold, and confident that God's plan will be far more marvelous than anything we could have ever imagined.

 

Wishing you love, harmony and beauty,
       wahiduddin

26-Jun-2008