Let me start by saying that I like rights. People should have rights. We should fight for the rights of other people. But when I look at the world around me, we get weird about rights. We are reluctant to give up any rights for the benefit of others and woe to you if a right should be altered in the least! As I read the story of Jesus’ crucifixion, I see a man entirely stripped of any rights he had. Without consideration of true justice, Jesus was tried in a kangaroo court where his sentence was more constricting on his breathing and more uncomfortable than a mask – he was attached to a tree with nails where he would die from suffocation. After several hours on the cross, as Jesus struggled for his last breaths, the gospel of Luke in chapter 23 and verse 46 records “Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’” (NIV) If you’re like me, you read this as an interesting but (perhaps) unimportant detail to the story. Not anymore.
The thing about quotations during the period in which the gospels were penned is that the single quote we have in our hands represents much more than the words we see on the page. Jesus’ quote from Psalm 31:5 may actually indicate that he quoted the entire Psalm with his final breaths. At a minimum, the quote would have been recognized by every Jew because many had the entire OT memorized and those listening would have clearly understood the context and the reason for which he quoted it.
So I’m reading along in Psalm 31 and I come across verse 8. If Jesus didn’t actually quote this part, there’s no question he knew it was included in the context. “You have not given me into the hands of the enemy but have set my feet in a spacious place.” (NIV) What spacious place is he referring to here? Perhaps it was that spacious piece of tree to which his feet were affixed. This Psalm is loaded with phrases as stunning as verse 8 when we understand them as being spoken from a man suffering from a (literally) excruciating death.
If ever a man had rights to be defended, it was Jesus. He created everything! And we know that Jesus freely gave up every right in order that the many might live. Sometimes I cling so tightly to my rights that I’m willing to sacrifice your life in order that I might preserve my own privileges. Perhaps what I ought to do is memorize Psalm 31 (at least verse 8) and recite it every time my rights are challenged.