I Thirst


At first glance this is one of the least profound of Jesus’ “words from the cross." After losing a large quantity of blood through his flogging and crucifixion, Jesus was bound to have experienced extraordinary thirst. So it is not surprising that Matthew and Mark record, along with John, that somebody offered Jesus some sour wine in a sponge (see Matthew 27:48; Mark 15:34). But its only John that notes Jesus’ simple statement of need (John 19: 28).
We on this island have so much water to spare (especially given the downpours of the past few days) that few of us have ever felt REAL thirst… perhaps coming round from an anaesthetic or after a tough sporting event… But few of us will have experienced the same level of physical thirst as Jesus has… However, around the world, then and now, real life-threatening thirst is a daily human experience. We barely noticed the loss of millions of gallons of water from a leak in the Mourne reservoirs last week, yet across the world 1 billion people survive on less than 5 litres of water a day… less than one flush of a toilet… about 10% of what they would really need for a healthy lifestyle… and often that 5 litres is far from clean… It is suggested that if global warming does have an effect on sea-level, and our limited resources of freshwater are tainted with salt, that combined with the increasing demands of an over-populated world, will mean that the wars of the next century may well be about water resources.

So this small phrase “I thirst” should be seen as a profound sign of Jesus’ humanity… his incarnation… He was not going through the motions on the cross… he was suffering in body as well as in spirit… He truly understood the limitations of physical human existence... But this was not only about his incarnation but also his identification with the poor and the dispossessed of this world.

Let's also remember the irony in all of this… Jesus’ first miracle in John’s Gospel was the turning of gallons of water into the best quality wine… yet here he was at the end of his life and ministry in that same Gospel, wanting something to drink and getting only sour wine (Note: This wasn’t an act of cruelty, giving a thirsty man vinegar to drink, but simply the cheap beverage common among lower class people in the time of Jesus).

Then later in that same Gospel, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well and asks her for a drink, only to get into an in depth discussion with her, in which he ultimately says:

"Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14)

So perhaps that is why John doesn't overlook that simple request... Perhaps he is using the irony of this to remind us of Jesus earlier acts and words of grace.

But John also notes that Jesus said "I am thirsty," not only as a statement of physical reality, but also in order to fulfill the Scripture. There is no specific reference in the text of the Gospel, but it's likely that John was thinking of Psalm 69 which we'll use as a response:


Psalm of Response

Save me, O God, for the flood waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the murky depths, where there is no foothold.
I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
Many are those who hate me without reason;
My enemies outnumber the hairs of my head.
You know my faults, O God;
my guilt is not hidden from you.
May those who hope in you not be disgraced, O Lord;
may those who seek you not be put to shame.
I endure scorn for your sake,
I am mocked in the streets and sung about by drunkards.
In your great love, O Lord, answer me with your sure salvation.
Lift me out of the mire and do not let me sink.
Come quickly and rescue me;
redeem me from my foes.
You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
I am in pain and distress;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none;
They put poison in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.
But I will praise God's name in song
I will glorify him with thanksgiving.
Because the Lord hears the needy
He raises up his oppressed people.

from Psalms 69:1-34

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