Psalm 22 (Read all of it! Here are sample NRSV excerpts)
1My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
4In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
6But I am a worm, …. scorned by others….
12Many bulls encircle me, …they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion.
14I am poured out like water ….
16For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me.
19But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; …
28For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
30Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.
31and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
Psalm 22 seems an unlikely commentary on the good news and present tense of Mark 1:15. Mark wrote within recent memory of God’s incarnation in Jesus. For Mark the “Kingdom of God Is At Hand,” NOW! Coming “immediately”! But Psalm 22 is noted for its dark opening, the perfect expression of human despair that Jesus uttered on the cross [Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34]. This poignant psalm follows a popular pattern in Hebrew poetry of strong contrasts, here between despair and hope, abandonment and presence, anxiety and conviction. The psalmist cries desperation to God while talking confidence to himself. He cannot stick to images of horror, for the urgency of his plea for attention reveals his belief that God will respond favorably to him and even to unborn people. I believe he knew that the Kingdom is at hand, but longed for Mark’s sense of immediacy. God’s Kingdom is a dilemma of tenses. It became manifest when Jesus walked on earth, but was there long before – at the Burning Bush, in the Temple with Isaiah, with the Israelites in wilderness and exile, with the poor and aliens who populate the salvation story. The psalmist had enough evidence and faith to pray, praise, and hope eloquently.
We may not have the psalmist’s fluency, but we know that the Kingdom has come, is here, and is coming, because the Bible explains that through paradoxes and parables with blinding bursts of light. God has steady dominion for all generations. Human perception, though flawed, includes enough memories and visions of God’s deeds and purposes to sustain individuals and faith communities, motivate works of love and justice, and chase away self-conceived demons. It’s why we need an annual Lenten journey to convey more clearly how the cross can perfectly express human evil and divine love.
We do not know why Jesus recited Psalm 22:1 after a life of confident faith and eschatological hope. Perhaps he trusted that people would also recall vv. 30-31. Perhaps his totally human, totally divine nature required a human response to pain. Perhaps it’s just a matter of tense. God may seem to forsake in the very present moment what God is saving in past and future. God’s Kingdom includes everything in God’s universe and time, “good” and “bad.” One day, coming-but-not-yet, full clarity will arrive. Meanwhile, I rejoice that God accepts all of our honest cries.
Dear Triune God of mysteries, surprises, and presence, thank you for the gift of scripture and church community, in which each Lenten season we grapple with the confusion of tenses in your eternal Good News. Thank you for accepting our gripes and fears, while helping us to envision the marvels of your forever presence and promises. Amen.
Carroll Leslie Bastian