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(May 2013)

Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachthani

By St. John Chrysostom, from his 88th homily on the Gospel of St. Matthew (Mt 27:45-48), edited for length.

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, and said, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is to say, my God my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Some of them that stood there, when they heard that said, this man calleth for Elias. And straight way one of them ran, and took a sponge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave Him to drink.

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There is a sign which He had promised to give them when they asked for it, saying to them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas (Mt 12:39); that sign is encompassed in His cross and His death, His burial and His resurrection. And again, declaring in another way the virtue of the cross, He said, When ye have lifted up the Son of Man, then shall ye know that I am He. (Jn 8:28). And what He said is to imply: When ye have crucified me, and think ye have overcome me, then, above all, shall ye know my might.

After the crucifixion, the city was destroyed, and the Jewish state came to an end; and the gospel flourished and His word was spread abroad to the ends of the world. Both sea and land, both the inhabited earth and the desert perpetually proclaim His power. Indeed, it was much more marvellous that these things should be prophesied by Him when He was nailed to the cross, than when He was walking on earth.

And observe when it took place. At midday, that all that dwell on the earth may know it, when it was day all over the world. After all their insulting, and their lawlessness, this is done, soon after they had let go their anger, when they had ceased mocking; it is then that He shows the deep darkness, in order that at least so (having vented their anger) they may profit by the miracle.

This miracle was more marvellous than for Him to come down from the cross; for He worked these things while being on the cross! For whether they thought He Himself had done it, they ought to have believed and to have feared; and if not Him but the Father, they ought to have been moved to compunction, for that darkness was a token of His anger at their crime.

And what they saw was not just an eclipse, but both wrath and indignation; and it continued for three hours. We are aware that an eclipse takes place in one moment of time, and those who observed the miracle know this.

How is it then that all did not marvel and account Him to be God? Because the race of man was then held in a state of great carelessness and vice. And this miracle was but one, and when it had taken place, immediately passed away; and no one was concerned to inquire into the cause of it, for great was their prejudice and their habit of ungodliness.

He Himself worked this miracle. And he did so that they might learn that He was still alive, and that they might become by this also more gentle. And he exclaimed Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (Mt 27:46) so that unto His last breath they might see that He honors His Father, and is no adversary of God. And His cry is from the prophet, (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? [Pss 22:1]), thus bearing witness to the Old Testament in His last hour, and in Hebrew, so as to be plain and intelligible to them. By all things, He shows how He is of one mind with Him that begat Him.

Now observe here their maliciousness, ignorance, indulgence and foolishness. They thought (it is said) that it was Elias whom He called, and straightway they gave Him vinegar to drink. (Mt 27:48). But another came unto Him, and pierced His side with a spear. (Jn 19:34). What could be more lawless and brutal than these men carrying their madness to such great of a length, offering insult at last even to a dead body? Observe, however, how He made use of their wickednesses for our salvation. For after the blow the fountains of our salvation gushed forth from thence: and forthwith came there out blood and water...

And Jesus, when He had cried with a loud voice, yielded up the Ghost. (Mt 27:50). This is what He had said, I have power to lay down my life, and I have power to take it again, and, I lay it down of myself. (Jn 10:18). So for this cause He cried with a loud voice, that it might be shown that the act of His death is done by power. Mark the Evangelist informs us that Pilate marvelled if He were already dead. (Mk 25:44). And above all, this is the reason that the centurion believed; because He died with power: And when the centurion, which stood over against him, saw that he so cried out, and gave up the ghost, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God. (Mk 15:39).

This cry rent the veil and opened the tombs and made the house desolate. And He did this, not as to offer insult to the temple (how could He, when he said Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise [Jn 2:16]) but declaring them to be unworthy even of His steadfastness; and this was also a prophecy of the coming desolation, and a declaration of the change into the greater and higher state and a clear sign of His might.

And He also showed Himself by what followed after these things, the raising of the dead. Elisha, on touching a dead body rose again (2Kings 13:21); but now by a voice He raised the dead, His body continuing up there, on the cross! And they are not merely raised, but the rocks are also rent, and the earth shaken, so that they might learn, that He was able to strike themselves blind, and to rend them in pieces. For He that cleft rocks asunder and darkened the world, could have easily done these things to them, had it been His will. But He would not, but having discharged His wrath upon the elements, His will was to save them by clemency. But they did not abate their madness. Such was their envy. So even after placing a seal upon His tomb, and soldiers watching Him, He rose again, and they heard these things from the very guards; they even gave money, in order both to corrupt others, and to steal away the history of the resurrection.

Observe the great signs He had wrought, some from Heaven, some on earth, some in the very temple, at once marking His indignation, and at the same time showing that what were unapproachable are now to be entered, and that Heaven shall be opened. And they indeed said, If He be the King of Israel, let Him come down now from the cross, (Mt 27:42) but He shows them that He is King of all the world. And whereas those men said, Thou that destroyest this temple, and buildest it in three days, (Mt 27:40) He shows that it shall be made forever desolate.

Again they said, He saved others, Himself He cannot save (Mt 27:42), but He, while abiding on the cross, proved this most abundantly for so many of his deceased servants. If one considers Lazarus’ rise on the fourth day as a great and miraculous event, how much more for all those who had long ago fallen asleep, and at once appeared alive; and this was a sign of the future resurrection to come. For, many bodies of the saints which slept, arose, it is said, and went into the holy city, and appeared to many. (Mt 27:52-53). And the Centurion too then glorified God, saying, Truly this was a righteous man. And the multitudes that came together to that sight, returned beating their breasts. (Lk 23:47-48).

The power of the Crucified was indeed so great that after so many mockings, and scoffs, and jeers, both the centurion was moved to compunction, and many people. And some say of this centurion that he became a martyr in His name, after he grew in the faith.

And many women were there beholding afar off, which had followed Him, ministering unto Him, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (Mt 27:52-53). All these events are closely observed by the women, for they were most inclined to feel for Him, who were most of all bewailing Him. Observe their diligence and attentiveness. They had followed Him ministering to Him, and were present even during the most dangerous moments and they saw it all; how He cried, how He gave up the ghost, how the rocks were rent, and all the rest.

And these women are the blessed ones that also first see the resurrected Jesus; the sex that was most condemned shows its courage and first enjoys the sight of the blessings. When the disciples had fled, they were present. But who were these? His mother, for she is called mother of James, and the rest. But another evangelist (Lk 22:48) informs us that many women also lamented over the things that were done, and smote their breasts. This, above all, shows the cruelty of the Jews, who gloried in things for which the women were lamenting; the former were neither moved by pity, nor checked by fear.

But Joseph went, and begged the body. (Mt 27:57-58). This was Joseph, who was concealing his discipleship; now, however, he had become very bold after Christ’s death. For neither was he an obscure person, nor unnoticed; he is one of the council, highly distinguished and extremely courageous. By his affection to Jesus, he exposed himself to death, taking upon him the hostility and animosity of many; he dared to beg the body of Christ and did not cease his efforts until he obtained it. He showed his love and his courage not only by taking Christ’s body and burying it in a costly manner, but also by laying it in his own new tomb And this was not coincidental; in this manner, there could not be any bare suspicion that one had risen instead of another.

And there was Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary, sitting over against the sepulchre. (Mt 27:61). For what purpose do they await by the tomb? They had brought ointments, and were waiting at the tomb, so that if the madness of the Jews should relax, they might go and embrace the body. Do you see the women’s courage, their affection, their noble spirit in money and their noble spirit even unto death? Let us men imitate the women; let us not forsake Jesus in temptations. Even though He was dead, they exposed their lives, but we (for again I say the same things) neither feed Him when hungry, nor clothe Him when naked, but seeing Him begging, we pass Him by.

We say that Christ has done great things, having made angels of men; then, when we are called upon to give account, and required to furnish a proof out of this flock, our mouths will be shut and we will be absent of furnishing deeds in His name.

And let us do at any rate what each of us can accomplish, and from the present time purify our lives and attain the promised blessings, by the grace and love towards man of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory world without end.