When we read the four accounts of Our Lord’s crucifixion according to the four evangelists — Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John — we find that they report seven statements made by Jesus while hanging in agony on the cross. Saints Matthew and Mark report only one: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In and of itself, it seems to be a cry of despair, of deep depression and distress. It certainly is a cry of distress, but not of despair at all. It is the opening line of the 22nd psalm, with which all devout Jews were totally familiar since the psalms were their principal prayer-book. If you read the entire psalm which is implied by Our Lord’s quoting the first line, you will find an almost photographic image of Christ dying in agony on the cross, but it ends in a great affirmation of hope and love of God: “God reigns, the ruler of nations! And my soul will live for him . . . men will proclaim the Lord to generations still to come, his righteousness to a people yet unborn.” So we do have Our Lord crying out in deep suffering but certainly not in despair of his Father’s love and support.
Saint Luke reports three of the “seven last words of Christ” as they are called. Jesus says, probably as they are nailing him to the cross and causing him indescribable pain: “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.” These men are visiting terrible suffering upon him, and Jesus is praying for their forgiveness and salvation. After all, it is for them as well as for all others that he is undergoing this terrible ordeal. (And for us, too; let us never forget that.) Then, when the thief crucified next to Our Lord says to Jesus: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Our Lord answers with the most sublime and sovereign assurance: “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Not at all the cry of a despairing man, but rather the statement of total confidence in the magnificently successful outcome of that which Jesus is accomplishing on the cross. And then finally, Saint Luke tells us that when Our Lord chose to bring his saving sufferings to a close, he prayed his last loving prayer to his Father: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” In eternity, the Word — the Son — is begotten by the Father. In time, he receives his human spirit or soul from the Father. Now, the Word gives this human soul of his back into the Father’s keeping until it is reunited with his body a few hours later at the moment of the resurrection. And by his own deliberate choice, he dies.
Then Saint John, too, reports three utterances of Our Savior from the pulpit of the cross. Looking down at those standing at the foot of the cross, Jesus sees his Virgin Mother and his beloved apostle, Saint John. To make provision for his mother until her assumption into heaven, Our Lord says to her, “Woman, behold your son.” And to Saint John: “Behold your mother.” Devout Christians from that time until now have seen in this giving of John to Mary and Mary to John more than just an arrangement between those two whom Jesus loved so much. Saint John represents the entire human race at the foot of the cross, and Jesus says to him and to us: Behold your mother, and to her: behold your sons and daughters. He is in the act of saving the world and making all of us his children by grace and adoption. And thus, he wants us to have this incomparable mother of his to be ours, too. She becomes the Mother of the Church, the Mother of all the Living.
Then Saint John tells us that Jesus said, “I thirst.” This is to fulfill scripture, as John says. He probably had in mind the 22nd psalm which Jesus had quoted earlier. Describing his terrible torture of thirst, the psalmist says: “My palate is drier than a potsherd and my tongue is stuck to my jaw.” And in their vicious cruelty, his executioners give him vinegar to drink.
He has come to the end of his great mission, the purpose for which he came into our world, and he gasped and choked out his very last words: “It is finished.” His atonement for our sins has been accomplished. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.