Were I to say to any man between the age of 18 to 60, “Leave the gun, take the cannoli,” I would venture to say that 99% of men of a certain age would know exactly what I was talking about. It is a cultural reference point.
Of course, I am quoting “The Godfather.” Many a dude has memorized almost every line of that movie. It is our mutual cultural reference point. If I say to someone with this cultural reference “You gotta go to the mattresses,” they would automatically understand that I am encouraging them to fight with everything they have and to bring that fight to the enemy.
I was working overnight on a major systems upgrade. Some colleagues and I were sitting around while the systems engineers did their voodoo. Somehow the conversation turned to religion. A colleague of mine said he didn’t believe. After a little discussion, he dropped what he thought would be a trump card on another fellow in the group.
“If Jesus was God, why did he say ‘“My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’ Doesn’t that prove that even Jesus didn’t think he was God.”
I waited for the other guy to respond as the question was directed at him but I could see from the look on his face that he had never considered this question. The questioner had a look of victory on his face. I jumped in.
“I can answer that. Leave the gun, take the cannoli.”
I got the desired reaction, blank stares.
“Let me clarify. Take it to the mattresses.”
More blank stares.
“When I say these things to you, what am I quoting?”
“The Godfather,” they all responded at once.
“How do you know?”
“We just do. Everybody knows those lines.”
“Exactly. As 21st century Americans, I can pretty much count on the fact that we all have the same frames of cultural reference. So when Jesus said ‘My God, my God…’ he also knew that his audience would automatically understand him. The problem isn’t that Jesus didn’t know He was God. The problem is that you are not first century Jews.”
“When Jesus said what He said, he knew that those who heard him would know what he was quoting and why. The problem is that you don’t. Jews of that time could quote scripture better than you can quote the Godfather, trust me. So when Jesus said ‘“My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me,’ they immediately knew he was quoting a psalm from the bible. So let’s read it and see if we can’t figure out why?”
God my God, look upon me: why have you forsaken me? Far from my salvation are the words of my sins. 3 O my God, I shall cry by day, and you will not hear: and by night, and it shall not be reputed as folly in me. 4 But you dwell in the holy place, the praise of Israel. 5 In you have our fathers hoped: they have hoped, and you have delivered them. 6 They cried to you, and they were saved: they trusted in you, and were not confounded. 7 But I am a worm, and no man: the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people. 8 All they that saw me have laughed me to scorn: they have spoken with the lips, and wagged the head. 9 He hoped in the Lord, let him deliver him: let him save him, seeing he delights in him. 10 For you are he that have drawn me out of the womb: my hope from the breasts of my mother. 11 I was cast upon you from the womb. From my mother’s womb you are my God, 12 depart not from me. For tribulation is very near: for there is none to help me. 13 Many calves have surrounded me: fat bulls have besieged me. 14 They have opened their mouths against me, as a lion ravening and roaring. 15 I am poured out like water; and all my bones are scattered. My heart has become like wax melting in the midst of my bowels. 16 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue has cleaved to my jaws: and you have brought me down into the dust of death. 17 For many dogs have encompassed me: the council of the malignant has besieged me. They have dug my hands and feet. 18 They have numbered all my bones. And they have looked and stared upon me. 19 They parted my garments amongst them; and upon my vesture they cast lots.
“Did you get that last part? Dug my hands and feet. Cast lots for my garments. What is this psalm describing?”
“The crucifixion, obviously.”
“Yes. And Jesus knew that they would know that Jesus quoted this psalm purposefully to suggest that this prophecy was being fulfilled in their sight.”
The look of rhetorical triumph was now gone from my colleague’s face and in its place was a stunned look of contemplation.
After a moment he said, “So that’s what He meant. I never knew that.”
Adapted from a piece that originally appeared on the National Catholic Register.