It’s probably not hard to find even non-Christians that are familiar with Matthew 27:46, even if they’re not familiar with chapter and verse designation. Specifically the words of our Lord:
“…My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Growing up, I had always interpreted this verse in a manner that in Jesus’s agony he has despaired, and God has somehow truly abandoned him.
This is not an uncommon reading of the text. But there are hermeneutics to be considered when reading scripture. Perhaps one of the most helpful lenses to look at scripture is the audience it was originally intended for. In the case of Matthew, he is perhaps the most overtly writing to a Jewish Christian audience¹.
I do not think that scripture means what you think it means
Under the lens of a Jewish audience, this verse takes on a particular depth of meaning. It was a common rabbinical practice² at the time to quote the first line of a Psalm, and the audience would understand that you were referencing the entire Psalm. So let’s look at the entire Psalm.
Psalm 22 is perhaps best summed up by Michael D. Guinan, O.F.M. as
“the prayer of a just one who suffers innocently, of one who is surrounded by enemies and mocked precisely because of his fidelity to God. When God hears this cry and delivers, the just one offers praise and thanksgiving to God.”
If you click on his name above, you’ll find perhaps the best article I’ve seen on this subject. Guinan breaks down the Psalm into groups of verses – two parts a lament, and two parts praise.
Guinan also does a tremendous job showing how poignantly the death of Christ fulfills the scriptures – especially Psalm 22. This is illustrated both as Christ the innocent suffers because of his faithfulness to God (and vindicated) as well in the specific means. Go back and read Psalm 22. You’ll see the psalmist mention a mocking and shaking of heads, casting lots for clothes, and piercing the hands and feet… all starting with the direct quote “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. These are all found in Matthew’s account.
In the years that I have been aware of this connection between Jesus’s words of “abandonment” as a reference to psalm 22 it continues to fascinate me. Be sure to check out the links in today’s unlocking scripture post if it fascinates you too.
I’ll leave you with Dr David Anders answering this very question. It’s plays at the correct location, and he puts a tidy bow on it in about three minutes flat.