Notice in Matthew’s account of the Passion that Jesus gradually becomes silent. As the hours before his death go by, his words become fewer and fewer. He works no wonders, no cures. His power seems to slip away and he becomes more and more helpless.
In the garden, he prays a short troubled prayer, over and over: “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me, yet not my will, but your will be done.”
He looks for the comfort of friends but finds none. They fall asleep and seem to not notice. “Pray that you don’t enter temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” Jesus tells them.
When he’s brought before Caiaphas, the high priest, he doesn’t dispute the false witnesses that bring charges against him. Through his public ministry he’s quick to answer what’s false, but now he’s silent. Only when Caiaphas directly asks him if he is the Messiah, the Son of God, does Jesus answer: “ You have said so. I tell you from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Similarly, when Jesus is brought before Pilate, he is mostly silent. “Are you the king of the Jews?” Pilate asks him. “You say so,” Jesus answers. Then, he says no more.
He’s silent when the crowd calls for Barrabas; he’s silent when the soldiers scourge him with whips and crown him with thorns. He’s silent when they mock him and lead him away to be crucified.
The only words he says in Matthew’s gospel, as well as in the gospel of Mark, are the final words from psalm 22, which the evangelists quote in Aramaic, as well as Greek: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me.?”
It’s not that Jesus is unaware of what’s happening to him, or that he has steeled himself and turned away from it all. He’s not retreated into his divinity. “He humbled himself, accepting death, even death on a cross,” St. Paul, the Apostle says.
His silence is his humble acceptance of death and all it entails.
Yet, his trust in God never fails, even when God seems absent.
What kind of cross do we carry? We know it when words and human solutions fail and we can accomplish nothing on our own. Think of the silence that followed the earthquake in Japan. People could hardly take it in. It’s not just physical pain, it’s more than that.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
It was more than a question, Jesus was asking. It was a prayer. As he did in the garden, he threw himself into the hands of God, his Father, who knows all and receives us all. There he was safe and his soul found peace.
As he said to his disciples in the garden, he says to us, “Pray when the cross comes, put yourself in God’s presence our safety when the storm comes.”