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.

The Third Word from the Cross

Jesus’ mother was standing next to his cross along with her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus looked to see His mother and the disciple He loved standing near by.

Jesus (to Mary, His Mother): Dear woman, this is your son(motioning to the beloved disciple)! (to John, His disciple) This is now your mother. (John 19:25-27-The Voice)

Throughout the gospel narratives, Jesus’ relationship with his mother seemed strained. When he was twelve he ditched his parents to go to temple(Luke 2:41-49). As an adult, Mary approaches Jesus to help with a wine shortage at a wedding, he responds, “Woman, what has that to do with me?(John 2:4)” I know, from years of Bible studies and commentaries that ‘Woman’ was a common address during the time, something like “Dear woman.” But try as I might I cannot make this phrase of Jesus sound like he’s being nice to mom.

mary&JohnOnce when his mother and brothers came to get him, fearing he was off his rocker, he virtually disowned them. “Who are my mother and brothers? You here are my mothers and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my true family (Mark 3:33,35).”

And it is this Jesus who uttered the words that warm every mother’s heart, “If you come to me without hating your own father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister, and yes, even your own life, you can’t be my disciple. (Luke 14:26).

But on the cross, Jesus took a moment away from dying for are sins to focus on the family. “This is your son. . .this is now your mother.” What does this mean? What is the significance of this little interchange?

Was Jesus taking time to make sure his mother is cared for in his absence? Was he giving his mom and disciple shoulders to cry on in their grief? Certainly there is an element of provision here for his grieving mother. A good Jewish boy would see that his mother was properly cared for in her old age. Augustine observes as much:

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. cxix. 1) This truly is that hour of the which Jesus, when about to change the water into wine, said, Mother, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come. Then, about to act divinely, He repelled the mother of His humanity, of His infirmity, as if He knew her not: now, suffering humanly, He commends with human affection her of whom He was made man. Here is a moral lesson. The good Teacher shews us by His example how that pious sons should take care of their parents. The cross of the sufferer, is the chair of the Master.

But this brief episode also invites reflection on the significance of Mary. As Stanley Hauerwas writes:

Mary, the Jew is in a singular fashion becomes for us the forerunner of the faith, making it impossible for Christians to forget without God’s promise to Israel our faith is in vain. When Christians repress the role of Mary in our salvation we are tempted to forget that God remains faithful to his promises to his people, the Jews. Our Savior was born of Mary, making us, like the Jews, a bodily people who live by faith in the One who asks us to behold his crucified body.

Jesus therefore, commands the disciple, his beloved disciple, not to regard Mary as Jesus’s mother but rather to recognize that Mary is “your mother.” Mary’s peculiar role in our salvation does not mean that she is seperate from the church. Rather, Mary’s role in our salvation is singular because, beginning with the beloved disciple she is made a member of the church. Mary is one of us which means the distance between her and us is that constituted by both her and our distance between the Trinity and us, that is, between creatures and Creator. (Cross-Shattered Christ, 53-54)

Mary’s yes thirty-something years before inaugurated the events that led to this moment. Her son, the God of the universe, was stretched out on a cross. With dying breath he honors her for her role and her love for him. He gave John to her as a son, reconstituting family. It is not an overstatement to say, that church is born at the foot of the cross. And the hopes of Mary, and with her all of Israel, are bound up in the Son she saw die.