After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” John 19:28
“Thirsty.” It’s little more than a whisper. The desperate gasp of a dying man. Only those nearby would have heard anything at all. “Thirsty.”
It’s a shock, really. Jesus’ words till now have been of higher things. He has been taking care of the needs of others. He has cried out for God. But now he speaks of earthly things, his own burning thirst. “Thirsty.”
Just a few weeks ago, we heard Jesus at Jacob’s well asking the Samaritan woman for a drink of water. It was mid-day and he was thirsty. But his request was also a conversation starter, and the conversation quickly turned to her spiritual thirst and his offer of “living water.”
Today, Jesus’ thirst is different. He has been losing blood since the beatings started. He is hanging in the hot Palestinian sun. The Psalmist (Ps. 22) says, “My mouth is dried out like a pot-sherd; my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth.” His tongue cleaves to the roof of his mouth. We can almost feel the effort of ripping tongue from palate. “Thirsty.”
Perhaps the closest any of us have come is the thirst after surgery, after the breathing tube is removed. We swallow convulsively, our salivary glands are dried up.
It is tempting to shift our focus back to the spiritual things. This is the Christ on that cross. He is longing for the Kingdom of God on earth. He is thirsting for the salvation of the world. And John encourages this focus on the spirit. “In order to fulfill the scripture.” Not because his tongue cleaves to the roof of his mouth and he desperately wants some water or even that sour wine, but because he wants each of us to have living water.
Alternatively, it is tempting to focus on the physical thirst, the pain, the long hours of his torment. The thorns and the whip and the nails. We shudder, we cringe, we try to block it out.
The physical or the spiritual? We vacillate. First one, then the other. Can we hold onto both? Can we ponder in our hearts the sacred and profane? The zest for life and the longing for life eternal? The thirst for living water and cool clear H2O?