As we approach Easter, we are drawn to the New Testament accounts of the crucifixion and the Old Testament texts that seem to point to the passion. One of the most frequent is Psalm 22, the first part of which Jesus quotes while on the cross (Mark 15:34). Many Christians look at Psalm 22 as a straight forward prophecy of the crucifixion of Jesus. And it may be. Or perhaps there is another way to look at it.
The problem with pulling Psalm 22 out from the rest of Psalms is that it contains many of the same themes found in the others. The Psalmist describes the feeling of God forsakenness, expresses the pain of suffering, cries out to God and states a trust in God apart from the circumstances. If Jesus did not quote it and if the Gospel writers did not record some of the surrounding events that touch on Psalm 22, we would not look at this passage as a prophecy. Of course, Jesus did and the Gospel writers did and so we must connect them. But what if the purpose of Psalm 22 was not to point toward details of the crucifixion of the Messiah but rather to express the suffering of God’s people and the need to trust God no matter what? What if Psalm 22 was primarily about the human situation? It certainly fits with the other Psalms that do that.
If so, what do we do with the allusions to Psalm 22 at the crucifixion? What if Jesus was gathering up all our fear, anxiety, sorrow and separation from God, and was joining us in the human situation, not just to observe it but to overcome it? In that case, we would look at “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalms 22:1 ESV) not just as a pointer toward Jesus but as a statement of our own experience, one that Jesus chooses to join us in. Neither the Psalms nor the Gospels are limited to providing interesting biographical information (although the Gospels are ancient biographies) but also show us the point of contact between God and humanity. In Jesus, our suffering and fear was taken up on the cross and was overcome. When we look to the cross, we see not just Jesus, we also see our own suffering and God forsakenness being crucified.