I've been thinking a lot about the feeling of abandonment, and wondering why God would ask me to go through such a difficult time at this point of my journey. Why is this feeling of isolation, of being left all alone, a part of my cross? Isn't the normal everyday suffering of infertility enough?
And then I remembered the Gospel of Mark.
Mark is my favorite Gospel. When I was a junior in college, I took my first Religion class, entitled "Bible as Literature." I was prepared to fill out a yellow index card and drop the class before the first day, I was that convinced it would be Christian-bashing blasphemy. (I went to a VERY liberal New England college.) But I was so drawn to the name of the class- two of my very favorite subjects, Christianity and literature, tied into one. So I took a chance. And I'm so glad I did.
The course was taught by probably the only practicing Episcopalian professor on campus. He was not only a devout Christian himself, but he was also a brilliant professor, with a TON of knowledge on both the Old and New Testaments. After taking the class, I decided to pick up a Minor in Religion, and went on to do an Independent Study thesis with this professor in my final semester.
My thesis was a study of the WHY behind Jesus' crucifixion, suffering, and death. I drew upon several of the Old Testament books, but mostly concentrated on 4 areas of the New Testament: the letters of Paul, the gospels of John and Mark (SO TOTALLY DIFFERENT!!), and Hebrews. Have I mentioned that Hebrews, aside from the Gospel of Mark, is my FAVORITE book of the Bible?? If you have not read it, or haven't read it in a while, I urge you to read it tonight! It's so profound, yet so simplistic in language... it's like "The Dummies' Guide to Catholicism."
Back to Mark.
In studying Mark, both in the "Bible as Literature" course and for my thesis, I learned that there are many discrepancies between his gospel and the other 3. Discrepancies in language, discrepancies in settings, discrepancies in events. They are all VERY PURPOSEFUL. Mark's literary style is brief and to the point- he is definitely not one to elaborate with fluffy language or overexplain anything. Mark is a Gospel you need to read between the lines, unlike John. (My professor used to joke that John has a lot of "Jesus soliloquies," where Jesus would start out answering someone's question, and by the end of the chapter, you forget that anyone else is in the room! It's true! But I do love John, he's my 2nd favorite Gospel.)
One of the discrepancies in Mark's gospel is that NONE of Jesus' disciples are present at His crucifixion. None. He is left to die alone, without any of His friends. (The women were "looking on from a distance.") The only people close to Him as He was on the cross, dying, were the chief priests, the scribes, and the soldiers, all of whom mocked Him endlessly until His final breath. The revolutionaries crucified with Him "also kept abusing him."
This complete and total abandonment was a PART of Jesus' Passion. In fact, one can argue that it was a critical part, being so near to His death.
One of the major literary purposes for Jesus being left alone to die on the cross in Mark's gospel is so that when He cries out, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?) it makes sense. In invoking Psalm 22 at this time of His Passion, Jesus is not only making it abundantly clear that everything that has happened and everything that is happening is a fulfillment of scripture... He is also personally experiencing the feelings of abandonment and isolation that the writer of Psalm 22 is portraying. We all know and remember that one of those lines that is fulfilled is "they divide my garments among them; for my clothing they cast lots." But before that line are these lines: "scorned by everyone, despised by people," "All who see me mock me; they curl their lips and jeer; they shake their heads at me," "Many dogs surround me; a pack of evildoers closes in on me."
The Psalm opens with that sense of abandonment and confusion (why would God do this?)... but it ends with a proclamation of the goodness of God, praising His name now and forever more, trusting in His deliverance.
Mark's Jesus is showing that despite appearances, He is NOT alone, forsaken and abandoned by all, including His Father.
But even Mark's Jesus had to FEEL abandoned, FEEL alone, FEEL isolated.
It was a perfectly complete suffering that He took upon Himself. He had no comfort in the strength and support of loved ones close by. He had no comfort in knowing that anyone around Him knew just who He was (the centurion didn't figure it out until He had died). In His final minutes before death, Jesus endured an emotional suffering that may have surpassed the physical torture of His Passion.
And here again is another parallel between the cross that I embrace in my life, and Jesus' cross.
Here I am, feeling that everyone around me, particularly those I've relied on for support and strength for the past 2 years, has left me to suffer this cross alone.
I know that many of you still waiting for your blessing feel exactly the same way.
And so I hope that my analysis of the situation helps all of you, too.
I will go out on a limb and say that this part of our cross may very well be a foreshadowing of our Resurrection. After all, it was only hours before His death that Jesus was left alone. Could this mean that this is the final part of our cross, too?
No matter how much longer we are asked to carry our cross, we should view this time of isolation and abandonment as Jesus did in order to suffer completely and perfectly the way He showed us. Let us remember the way Psalm 22 flips on its head halfway through, to reveal the greatness (and nearness) of God, even when He seems furthest away:
"For God has not spurned or disdained
the misery of this poor wretch,
Did not turn away from me,
but heard me when I cried out."