During this special Year of the Word: The God Who Speaks, we are going to have a regular series of reflections published on our website which will prompt us to reflect on important passages of St Matthew’s Gospel, and learn more about them. We are very grateful to Dr Natalie Watson, a contemporary theologian and writer, for offering these reflections for our community.
People often ask ‘Where was God when this or that event happened?’ A disaster perhaps that kills hundreds of innocent people, war or famine. Others might ask how a good and loving God could allow such things to happen. It is as if people are asking ‘Where is God when you need him?’ Where is God?
This passage from Matthew’s Gospel is in many ways the high point of the drama of Matthew’s Gospel, his crucifixion and death on the cross. Mocked by those around him and yet alone, Jesus cries out: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ As so often in Matthew’s Gospel, we hear echoes from the Old Testament, in this case from Psalm 22. Where is God?
We read about the reactions of those who were there, the soldiers, the two bandits crucified on either side, the onlookers who have come for the spectacle. Where is God? Perhaps it here that we find the answer. Dying on the cross, Jesus is visible and tangible, and that is where God is – there on the cross.
An old spiritual asks: ‘Were you there when they crucified my Lord?’ In one sense obviously the answer is ‘no’, but what matters is that in dying on the cross, God went where we are, into the depths of human suffering, even to death itself. And he is with us now, wherever we are, present in our living and our dying.
‘Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last.’ The Greek for ‘breathed his last more accurately translates ‘gave up his spirit’. Jesus gives up his spirit, surrenders to God and pours out his love for the world. Where is God? He is there, dying on the cross and alive among us now.
God, when we want to ask where you are, help us to find you on the cross, and teach us to share the love you poured out to the world in what we do today.