National Catholic Register


A Little Chat About Psalm 22

BY Mark Shea

| Posted 11/23/11 at 1:00 AM


A reader who I had the pleasure of chatting with out in Columbus at the recent “Deep in History” conference writes:

Talking with you was the highlight of my weekend at the Coming Home Network Conference. I truly enjoyed it. I just finished your new book. I know, what took me so long? But I had to sleep sometime. Anyhow, great book. Loved it. The only thing I was surprised by was one little quibble regarding Ps 22. When Jesus says, “My God, my God ...” it is a reference to the whole Todah psalm. He is telling Mary, this is what is happening around you. I am a Todah sacrifice but the end of the chapter goes on to say that “I will proclaim you among the brothers …”, in other words, I’ll be back. Have hope Mary. Don’t despair. It was one of those cool break through moments after coming into the Catholic Church when I learned that. How could God turn his back on God? There is no logic there. Anyhow, loved the book. Trying to get a friend of mine in Ohio that is looking at the church to get a copy. The topic of discussion we had two weeks before the conference was on authority. So would fit right in. Keep up the amazing work that you do. Hope to run into you again someday.

I’m not sure which of my books he has in mind, but I think he means By What Authority?: An Evangelical Discovers Catholic Tradition

Dear reader: I understand what you are saying about Psalm 22 and the Todah (“Thanksgiving”) sacrifice and agree with it. However, my point is that, to somebody unfamiliar with Jewish scripture (like yer average ancient pagan), this and other passages from the Gospels are not something that anybody inventing the story would include. If you are an apostolic fraud with a dead rabbi on your hands and you are trying to fake him up as a god for a bunch of suckers, you don’t put words that sound like cries of powerlessness and despair on his lips, just as you don’t have him ask questions or profess ignorance. That looks bad. A fake god does not say, “Of that day and that hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son.” Gods are supposed to be omniscient and such statements therefore raised awkward questions. So (if you are a liar writing fiction) you have him say, “I know when the End is, but you are not worthy to be told.” Similarly you don’t record, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” You don’t record, “Who touched me?” You don’t record that he was crucified at all, but invent some other way to end the story (such as the Islamic expedient of having Judas get crucified and Jesus whisked away to heaven). Much tidier and more obviously a happy ending.  Otherwise, you will find yourself with exactly the problem the apostles had: fellow Jews who say, “Cursed is every one who is hanged upon a tree.” 

In short, my point is that the Gospel writers do record these things — because they are not faking up a story but recording what happened and letting the chips fall where they may. They have the first mark of honest witnesses in that they record things which seem at a prima facie level to obviously look bad to their case. 

Thanks for a thoughtful question!