The Fifth Word from the Cross

Jesus knew that His work had been accomplished, and the Hebrew Scriptures were being fulfilled.

Jesus:I am thirsty

A jar of sour wine [vinegar] had been left there, so they took a hyssop branch with a sponge soaked in the vinegar and put it to his mouth (John 19:28-29)

If one of the sayings of Jesus on the cross sounds out of place in my ears, this is it. The stress of his coming passion had him sweating blood in the Garden. Then Jesus was arrested, beaten, mocked, flogged and crucified. Crucifixion itself was a long, slow death by blood loss and asphyxiation. The pain was unbearable (the word ‘excruciating’ was coined to describe the pain of the cross).

But the only complaint we hear from Christ through the whole ordeal is, “I am thirsty.” This is underwhelming. I know, these words tell us about Christ’s suffering and his identification with us in our humanity, but of all the suffering that he felt, why emphasize this? Why thirst?

Jesus was thirsty; hours of blood loss will do that to you. But there is more for us to consider. These words come to us in John’s gospel, where ‘thirst’ is a major literary motif. In Jesus’ first sign he turned water to wine (John 2). When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, he said, “You do not know the gift of God or who is asking you for a drink of this water from Jacob’s well. Because if you did, you would have asked Him for something greater; and He would have given you the living water (John 4:10).” To the crowds clamoring for a sign, Jesus said, “I am the bread that gives life. If you come to my table you will never go hungry. Believe in me you will never be thirsty.” And to the people of Jerusalem he had said, “If any of you is thirsty, come to Me and drink. If you believe in Me, the Hebrew Scriptures say that rivers of living water will flow from within you”  (John 7:37b-8).

Jesus had promised to slake the thirst of all who came to him, to satisfy them and give them living water. Had living waters failed him? The Father had not let the cup pass from Jesus and he drank it in full but his thirst was not quenched.

It was when he knew the work was accomplished he said “I am thirsty.” He had suffered what needed suffering. He was moments before death and he knew that the Hebrew Scriptures, the hope of Israel were being fulfilled and so he expressed his thirst. Psalm 69:21 says, “they gave me vinegar for my thirst.” Vinegar is little help, but it is even lousier thirst quencher when you consider that Christ’s thirst was more than the physical discomfort of a dying man. He knew the work was done, and was thirsty for the fruits of his labor. He thirsted for you and for me to find our life and sustenance in God.

Stanley Hauerwas writes, “The work of the Son, the thirst of the Son through the Spirit, is nothing less than the Father’s thirst for us. God desires us to desire God. (Cross-Shattered Christ, 77). And so behold, the crucified one–our thirsty God who has accomplished the salvation of his people and desires, longs, thirsts for us to find our way home.

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