Lions, bulls, dogs, oxen, fever, thirst, physical torture, mental anguish – the trials besetting the author of Psalm 22 ran the gamut of human suffering.  Who composed this psalm, coupling his testimony of thanksgiving with such a heart-wrenching account of his troubles?  We do not know.

 

The first Christians realized very early on, however, that the meaning of Psalm 22 was fully revealed when our Lord prayed it while hanging on the Cross.  In ancient Jewish usage, to quote the first line of a psalm was a way of referencing the entire psalm.  The bystanders on Calvary thought that Jesus in His agony was simply calling on Elijah.  But, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, the disciples realized that Jesus’ Passion was the redemptive fulfillment of all that Psalm 22 foretold, both of the Messiah’s sufferings and of His final triumph.

 

Believers of every century have contemplated the sufferings of our Lord as they are described in Psalm 22 – His burning thirst, His hands and feet riven by nails, His clothing divided.  The loving, Christ-centered heart of St. Francis of Assisi, as he prayed Psalm 22 and pondered his Savior who was mocked, scorned and derided, would cry out: Love is not loved! 

 

The Seraphic Patriarch could very well have joined his voice to that of the author of the beloved PRAYER BEFORE THE CRUCIFIX, with its specific reference to Psalm 22:  Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus, while before Your Face I humbly kneel and with burning soul pray and beseech You to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments of faith, hope and charity, true contrition for my sins, and a firm purpose of amendment; while I contemplate with great love and tender pity Your five wounds, pondering over them within me, and calling to mind the words which long ago David the prophet spoke in Your own person concerning You, my Jesus: They have pierced My hands and My feet; they have numbered all My bones.

 

But something mysterious happens in the course of Psalm 22.  The anguished pleas of its first sections give way to a note of certain triumph.  The cries of the psalmist, the cries of the crucified Christ, are answered beyond all human expectation.  Textual obscurities make it difficult to know if a “bridging verse,” proclaiming the psalmist’s awareness that God had responded, was part of the original psalm.  In any case, we know there was a moment in which filial trust was crowned, when Christ’s anguished plea on the Cross became the answered prayer of the Resurrection.  The cry of ex­treme anguish is at the same time the certainty of an answer from God, the certainty of salvation - not only for Jesus Himself, but for “many.” (Pope Benedict XVI) 

 

Psalm 22 invites us to this certainty of faith, too, that in our lives and in our sufferings every Good Friday plea has an Easter answer.




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Psalm 22

 

II

 

Psalm 22

 

 

 

Many bulls have

surrounded me,

fierce bulls of Bashan

close me in.

Against me they open wide their jaws,

like lions, rending and roaring.

Like water I am poured out,

disjointed are all my bones.

My heart has become like wax,

it is melted within my breast.

Parched as burnt clay is my throat,

my tongue cleaves to my jaws.

Many dogs have surrounded me,

a band of the wicked beset me.

They tear holes

 in my hands and my feet

and lay me in the dust of death.

I can count every one of my bones.

These people stare at me and gloat;

they divide my clothing among them.

They cast lots for my robe.

O Lord,

 do not leave me alone,

my Strength, make haste to help me!

Rescue my soul from the sword,

my life from the grip of these dogs.

Save my life from the jaws

of these lions,

my soul from the horns of these oxen.

I will tell of Your Name

to my brethren

and praise You

where they are assembled.

 

Anguished Plea – Answered Prayer


PART 27