Lama Sabachthani?

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:45–54)

The phrase, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” was Aramaic, the language most commonly spoken in first century Palestine. The New Testament, however, was written in Greek, the main trading language of the known world and the language that most people knew. “My God” in Aramaic sounds very similar to the name Elijah. But the Greek word for “my God” does not. So that the Greek readers of the Gospel would understand how the crowd misunderstood Jesus, Luke recorded Jesus’ original Aramaic phrase.

That the crowd, largely made up of those who had always rejected Jesus, misunderstood his dying words is not so unexpected. They had misunderstood him during his entire public ministry. This last confusion was simply one more example of their nearly consistent inability to comprehend Jesus.

The last words of Jesus are given to us to remind us, if we still need reminding, that Jesus was human and that he could identify with all the challenges we face in life and in death. Dying alone on the cross, even though both he and his Father understood fully the necessity for his sacrifice, he was in pain and unhappy. We can never imagine, therefore, that Jesus doesn’t understand our pain, how bad it is for us, or what it means to suffer. He does know, he does understand, and he very much cares.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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