Jesus hanging on the cross, is still an observant Jew. He is reciting the 22nd Psalm; the Son of David is reciting a Psalm of David as his life slowly slips away. The Psalms were the hymn book and the prayer book at the time of Jesus. And so Jesus is praying to his God the prayers of the persecuted, the one suffering at the hands of others.
Jesus is the Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah. Good Friday is a day of suffering. After the Agony in the Garden, after the Scourging at the Pillar, after the Crowning of Thorns, Jesus suffers on the Cross for three hours so that we can be freed from the chains of death through his sacrifice.
He suffers so we know that our suffering is not in vain. However much we suffer, Jesus has suffered even more, and he suffers our suffering with us. He gives us a model of suffering that honors the pain but also promises a victorious end to the pain.
Psalm 22 does not dismiss the suffering that we endure. The Psalm speaks to that sense of frustration we feel when we are suffering, for in our hearts we seem to know that suffering is an injustice of some sort. It’s not fair, it’s not right. Jesus knows. Jesus understands because he suffered in exactly the same way. He is not nailed to the Cross because of anything he did; he’s there because of our sins. He’s dying for our sins because he loves us.
When we are suffering, we do feel like we are poured out like water, or that our bones are all out of joint. And when our suffering is the result of an injury done to us by another, those people do resemble the strong bulls of Bashan that have beset me.
Why does God allow this suffering? Mary, more than anyone else on Mount Calvary that day, knew the innocence of the victim. She was there at his miraculous conception announced to her by the angel Gabriel. She was there at his birth, a natural birth after which she miraculously retained her virginity. She saw the shepherds with their message of the angelic choirs singing Glory to God, and she met the magi from the East who sought the King of Kings even though they did not fully understand their quest. Mary raised this remarkable boy who spoke with the scribes in the Temple at the age of 12, referring to that Temple as “my Father’s house.” Perhaps even more remarkable was that boy went home and was an obedient son to her and Joseph for another 18 years before he began his public ministry. Thirty years in the presence of the Incarnate Word confirmed what the Angel said at the annunciation and the soldiers would say today: “Truly this is the Son of God.”
The Son of God came into the world not to alleviate suffering but to rectify its cause: the sin of Adam and Eve at the time of Creation. He came because none of the prophets before him could be heard. We had to see it for ourselves to believe it. He came in human flesh so we could know him and learn from him. He came because the sin committed by Adam and Eve was so great only God could repay it but only a Man should repay it. So God became Man to cancel the debt incurred by Adam and Eve. Through this suffering on the Cross, Death is vanquished, and Eternal Life is offered.
Do we want it? We say yes, but the flesh is weak. Suffering helps us make our flesh conform to our will. All of us face suffering, and how we face it reveals how we accept the love of God. God gives us suffering to help us see where evil truly is. God gives us suffering so we can respond with Love. God gives us suffering so we can truly trust in his Providence when we stop asking “Why” and start asking “What?”
It is truly a challenge to believe that suffering is ultimately a gift from our Loving Father, but it is. Just as today is ultimately Good Friday, suffering that we endure well with patience is a gift to help us grow in holiness and conform ourselves to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
When the dogs have encircled me, when the assembly of the wicked has closed around me, when they have pierced my hand and my feet, may I also sing Psalm 22 all the way to the end and declare His righteousness. Jesus, I offer my suffering to be with your suffering on the Cross. Jesus, I trust in you and my loving Father in Heaven.