What were Jesus’ last words?

By | March 24, 2010

The Seven Last Words of Christ offer Lenten reflection

Famous last words.

We’ve all heard them. They even make cartoons about them: “This looks easy” printed on a tombstone, for example.

There are hopeful last words — such as “Drink to me” attributed to Pablo Picasso. Some are prayerful, such as Pope John Paul II’s “Amen.” Some are even humorous, such as St. Thomas More’s when he moved his beard off the executioner’s block, saying, “This has not offended the king.”

But no more precious last words exist than those of Jesus on the cross.

 The Seven Last Words

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34).

“Woman, behold, your son” (Jn 19:26).

“I thirst” (Jn 19:28).

“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34).

“It is finished.” (Jn 19:30).

“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).

“The Seven Last Words” of Christ are a Lenten meditation that is usually a part of the final days of Lent. When I was a child, I remember listening to the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday and again on Good Friday, trying to count out which were the actual “seven” last words: “Father … into … your … hands. …”

Only later did I realize that the “seven words” were actually seven phrases, and that they came from the Passion accounts in each of the four different Gospels.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his book on the subject, said, “There was never a preacher like the dying Christ. There was never a congregation like that which gathered about the pulpit of the Cross. There was never a sermon like the Seven Last Words.”

When we reflect upon the last words of Christ, we have to remember that they are part of the Gospels, which are the recounting of “the Good News” of salvation. So, even when the words are sad and solemn and even frightening, we need to remember that they reveal this good news. They are, as Archbishop Sheen said, each a lesson.

 Of the “Seven Last Words,” one comes from Matthew and Mark: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It is the only one of the seven last phrases of the dying Christ that remain in the original Aramaic, the common language Jesus would have spoken: “Eli Eli lama sabachthani? (Mt 27:46 and Mk 15:34, which has “Eloi, Eloi…”).

These are also the words that begin Psalm 22, known as one of the Psalms of Lament in the Bible. The psalm has three parts, two of which are filled with distress. But the psalm also builds to an upbeat, triumphant conclusion that speaks of salvation: “Then I will proclaim your name to the assembly; in the community I will praise you” (v. 23).

The dying Jesus would have known this, as well as the words of the next psalm, Psalm 23. This is one of the greatest psalms of consolation, beginning: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Most biblical scholars agree that Jesus intended us to remember Psalm 23 when they heard Psalm 22.

In the same way, the other phrases of the Seven Last Words are meant to speak to us of salvation, and of God’s mercy and love even in the midst of death.

For many, this might be most apparent in the second of the Seven Last Words, spoken to the repentant thief: “This day you shall be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).

Seeing the message of love and hope in the words is perhaps most difficult with the fifth of “the last words”: “I thirst” (Jn 19: 28). Scholars say that this quote from Jesus again refers to Psalm 22 (v. 16), or possibly to another Psalm of Lament, Psalm 69, which refers to vinegar and gall, which John tells us Jesus was given to drink upon a sponge (Jn 19:29) after saying these words.

But Archbishop Sheen had a profound insight into this verse as well. He said that Jesus said these words, not to anyone present at Calvary, but to everyone who reads the Gospel to this day: “I thirst…. for love!” the archbishop said, meant that as Christ died for us out of love for us, he was also desiring our love in return.

That is the message to keep in mind as we reflect upon all the readings of the end of Lent and of Holy Week: God so loves us that Jesus died so we might be able to live forever in divine love.

And that’s the last word that really matters.

Sources: The Collegeville Biblical Commentary; Psalms for All Seasons; The

Sources: The Collegeville Biblical Commentary; Psalms for All Seasons; The Seven Last Words, www.crossroadsinitiative.com and The New American Bible.

The Seven Last Words of Christ offer Lenten reflection

Famous last words.

We’ve all heard them. They even make cartoons about them: “This looks easy” printed on a tombstone, for example.

There are hopeful last words — such as “Drink to me” attributed to Pablo Picasso. Some are prayerful, such as Pope John Paul II’s “Amen.” Some are even humorous, such as St. Thomas More’s when he moved his beard off the executioner’s block, saying, “This has not offended the king.”

But no more precious last words exist than those of Jesus on the cross.

“The Seven Last Words” of Christ are a Lenten meditation that is usually a part of the final days of Lent. When I was a child, I remember listening to the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday and again on Good Friday, trying to count out which were the actual “seven” last words: “Father … into … your … hands. …”

Only later did I realize that the “seven words” were actually seven phrases, and that they came from the Passion accounts in each of the four different Gospels.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in his book on the subject, said, “There was never a preacher like the dying Christ. There was never a congregation like that which gathered about the pulpit of the Cross. There was never a sermon like the Seven Last Words.”

When we reflect upon the last words of Christ, we have to remember that they are part of the Gospels, which are the recounting of “the Good News” of salvation. So, even when the words are sad and solemn and even frightening, we need to remember that they reveal this good news. They are, as Archbishop Sheen said, each a lesson.

 Of the “Seven Last Words,” one comes from Matthew and Mark: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” It is the only one of the seven last phrases of the dying Christ that remain in the original Aramaic, the common language Jesus would have spoken: “Eli Eli lama sabachthani? (Mt 27:46 and Mk 15:34, which has “Eloi, Eloi…”).

These are also the words that begin Psalm 22, known as one of the Psalms of Lament in the Bible. The psalm has three parts, two of which are filled with distress. But the psalm also builds to an upbeat, triumphant conclusion that speaks of salvation: “Then I will proclaim your name to the assembly; in the community I will praise you” (v. 23).

The dying Jesus would have known this, as well as the words of the next psalm, Psalm 23. This is one of the greatest psalms of consolation, beginning: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Most biblical scholars agree that Jesus intended us to remember Psalm 23 when they heard Psalm 22.

In the same way, the other phrases of the Seven Last Words are meant to speak to us of salvation, and of God’s mercy and love even in the midst of death.

For many, this might be most apparent in the second of the Seven Last Words, spoken to the repentant thief: “This day you shall be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).

Seeing the message of love and hope in the words is perhaps most difficult with the fifth of “the last words”: “I thirst” (Jn 19: 28). Scholars say that this quote from Jesus again refers to Psalm 22 (v. 16), or possibly to another Psalm of Lament, Psalm 69, which refers to vinegar and gall, which John tells us Jesus was given to drink upon a sponge (Jn 19:29) after saying these words.

But Archbishop Sheen had a profound insight into this verse as well. He said that Jesus said these words, not to anyone present at Calvary, but to everyone who reads the Gospel to this day: “I thirst…. for love!” the archbishop said, meant that as Christ died for us out of love for us, he was also desiring our love in return.

That is the message to keep in mind as we reflect upon all the readings of the end of Lent and of Holy Week: God so loves us that Jesus died so we might be able to live forever in divine love.

And that’s the last word that really matters. 

Sources: The Collegeville Biblical Commentary; Psalms for All Seasons; The Seven Last Words, www.crossroadsinitiative.com and The New American Bible.

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