It’s a hot 90 degree day, you have been working outside, covered in dust and dirt, smeared on your face and in your hair. You notice a garden hose, or a spigot, water dripping out across the sidewalk, you reach down and pick it up, just a sip, just enough to wet your lips brings you relief.
Jesus calls out from the cross, “I thirst.”
Below him, someone steps up with a branch of hyssop and wine vinegar, and touches his lips. Wine vinegar diluted with water was called posca, the drink of choice because it was thirst quenching, inexpensive and made river water more palatable. They soldiers at the crucifixion weren’t getting drunk on it, just using it to quench their own thirst.
Lifting the sponge soaked with posca with the branch of hyssop was necessary to reach Jesus’ lips. For those watching, the hyssop would remind them of the washing of the sacrificial blood of the lamb over the door posts in the Passover. Even in the midst of human failure and sin, here at Golgotha, a new Passover was being initiated.
As a nurse in the hospital, I had many occasions to put a cup of water, or straw to the lips of a thirsty patient, perhaps someone had surgery, or a stroke and could not lift the cup. I remember one patient in particular whose broken bones kept him from moving his arms and legs. Can you give me a drink? Thirst is the universal experience essential for sustaining all human life.
John’s gospel likes to point out the many ways Jesus’ humanity is revealed; he weeps, he gets angry, he thirsts. I think here on the cross however, when Jesus said, “I thirst,” rather than revealing his humanity, I think Jesus was revealing his full divinity.
God on the cross, the divinity of Jesus exposed there, the love that held Jesus to the cross, became the liquid poured out for our sakes. It’s the water that is separated for our baptism, it is the water that brings forth the new creation. Jesus’ thirst fulfilled the revelation of scripture, Psalm 69:21 “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”
Rather than posca, the liquid Jesus thirsted for that is essential for life is love. And here’s the thing: on Good Friday, we acknowledge that the crucified God still thirsts for our love. What makes our love available to God, what quenches God’s thirst is our complete trust, our faith. God thirsts for us to love God with our whole lives. Not just sharing ourselves a sip at a time.
There on the cross is not the only time Jesus asked for a drink. Do you remember Jesus in Samaria, “Give me a drink?” Jesus greets the woman at the well. He was certainly able to get his own drink. And the woman is already suspicious, what did Jesus really want? She asks, why are you asking me for a drink?
It doesn’t take long to realize the way to care for those who thirst is through a relationship. She has the longest recorded conversation with Jesus found anywhere in scripture. She accepts the truth he gives her and she is so transformed that she goes back into her village where she was an outcast and brings many out to meet Jesus. She has fallen in love with yet another man, Jesus. She has fallen in love with truth, with the way and with the life.
This question, “give me a drink,” was the very question I heard when my relationship with Jesus deepened. Why are you asking me for a drink? What kind of relationship are you calling me to?
What Jesus was asking the woman at the well for was this: give me what I am thirsting for most, let go of your past, your five husbands and give me your whole life. He told the woman, “when you drink the water I shall give, it shall become in you a well springing up to eternal life.” You see when God gives us water, when God gives us his love, love that is essential for life, there is none of this sipping out of a hose, God is like a three-year old and pours that water over us until we are drenched in love. God is the ultimate fireman, a big huge hose of water poured out to save our lives.
Jesus Christ thirsts for more than our doing good things for others, following Jesus means placing our full trust in his love that gives life. Following Jesus means that our lives are filled with love. Our one single aim is to quench Jesus’ thirst on that cross, to relieve his suffering, to give him our love and our lives. Your cup and mine, Jesus wants to drink deeply of the love that places our complete trust in him.
(Photo Credit, Casey Boga)