I have heard this line bandied about as proof that Jesus died feeling betrayed by God – which, I will admit, is a possible interpretation, though intriguingly this saying is reported by two men – “Matthew” and “Mark,” whoever they were – who obviously thought Jesus was the Messiah and Son of God and not forsaken by God at all.
The obvious thing to say about this is that the line is itself the first line of a psalm – psalm 22. Hence a very plausible interpretation is that what Jesus meant – or what Mark and Matthew meant – was “look at psalm 22.” If you don’t believe me, note all the other correspondences to psalm 22 – besides the obvious:
All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out their lips, and shake their head, saying,
“He trusted in God that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, if he delight in him.”
- there are also the very pointed parallels:
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
The correspondence goes down to the tiniest details like the singularity of the “garment.”
Why is this significant? The entire psalm is not a cry of despair – only the first line is. Given the correspondences, I don’t think the first line is the entirety of what’s meant. The rest is too:
I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the LORD, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you[f] I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the LORD will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the LORD
and he rules over the nations.
And the conclusion:
Future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
I can give an example of this kind of quotation. One of my Latin teachers described his headmaster as “capax imperii.” This means “capable of ruling.” This sounds like he meant that the headmaster was qualified for the job. But of course a true classicist knows the full quotation: from Tacitus, about Galba: “capax imperii, nisi imperasset.” ”He would have seemed capable of ruling, if he had never actually ruled.” The teacher meant the full quotation, as he knew I would understand, not just the first portion of it.
Jesus might not have said this, of course – Matthew and Mark are the only people who ascribe this phrase to him. But their habit of referring amply to Hebrew Scriptures, in addition to the rest of their books which make fairly bold claims about Jesus’s messiahship, make it on balance unlikely that this is a scene of defeat.