if Jesus was in fact praying the Psalms on the cross, Mark supplies the origin (Ps 22:1) and Luke the terminus (Ps 31:5) of the Lord’s final conscious string of prayer.
According to Mark, Jesus is heard by bystanders to have spoken from the cross words which are found in Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34). Most commentators will admit (even if they disagree) that an old interpretation of this text claims that Jesus might well have been ‘praying the Psalms’ to himself in Aramaic during that last forsaken hour.
However, Mark further relates that these bystanders believed Jesus was calling Elijah, and offered Jesus a sop of soldier’s wine, waiting to see if Elijah would come for him. It is not until after this interlude that physical death comes when, as Mark writes, “Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last“ (Mk 15:37).
According to Luke, the addition at Mk 15:37 doesn’t tell the whole story. Luke has reason to report that the last loud cry which Mark reports on the lips of Jesus just before he breathed his last was in the form of actual words: “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” Unbelieving Jesus scholars won’t like this, but I think Luke’s report of more speech is easier to accept than the idea of Jesus letting rip with one of those hideous screams that actors use when playing the bad guy falling off the cliff – AAAAUUGH! Seriously?
Luke has given us a beautiful devotional window opening onto the mind of Jesus at the hour of his death. Because these words reported by Luke are also from the Psalms (31:5). This means that if Jesus was in fact praying the Psalms on the cross, Mark supplies the origin (Ps 22:1) and Luke the terminus (Ps 31:5) of the Lord’s final conscious string of prayer.
For Lent, then, it might be worth a shot to try ‘praying the Psalms’ with Jesus from the cross (Ps 22:1 – 31:5). In faith imagine that you are experiencing a bit of what was actually passing through the mind of the Christ in the last few minutes of his material existence. Put a little cheap wine on your tongue somewhere in the middle of it all.
PS – My word-count 2,302 is based on an English version I found online and copied to word processing for tabulation (minus choir directions and verse numbers). I don’t know what it is in Aramaic.