July 4, 2017 by Kyle
There is something about suffering that creates an awareness that something is missing. Thirst is unlike any other urge in that it does not go away until it has been satisfied. The absence of water produces an urgency that cannot be explained away or dismissed. In fact, hydration is so important to the human body that without water a human being can only go three days without it before perishing. Thirst or dehydration has pushed humanity to live near water or to construct society around water for survival and flourishing. Jesus’ thirst on the cross represents a kind of cosmic suffering due to the decision of others made long ago. If there was ever a marker that something is missing it has to be the human body’s response to lack of proper hydration.
Jesus uses the thirst/satisfaction metaphor in the gospels to convey desire, urgent need and fulfillment. He positions Himself as the “living water” in John 4:14. Here the idea is that He only could quench the other thirst that humanity possesses—the woman by the well desired this water because she understood that it was uniquely different from anything she had experienced previously. Jesus’ parabolic use of this precious commodity called water reveals just how important it is for mankind. There are other instances where water and thirst are prominent in the Scriptures, but for today our discussion must lead us to the gift of thirst. Our Creator has given us this bodily signal that something is missing in our diet and we must satisfy the desire or else.
When Jesus says from the cross, “I thirst” we observe the God-Man communicating that something essential is missing. (John 19:28) In His suffering He identifies with His creation and their deepest need. His thirst is encouraging in that He knows how the thirsty feel. His presence on the tree is redemptive in that the suffering is effective to address thirsty lives. There is a yearning for certain things to be right side up in this world. We walk to the well each day to gather water because we must. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6) In His sermon before the multitude, Jesus confirms something that describes the nature of life on earth. We all desire something more. This is a thirst for greater, better, more! The righteousness that Jesus identifies is not an urging at a better devotional life or to just simply get more into our Bibles. It is a desire for things to be different than what currently exist. The kingdom of God is essentially the answer to the question that our thirst inquires about.
The reality is that we can never fully experience what Jesus goes through on the cross, but we can identify with His thirst because it is essentially humanity’s cry. We thirst for a solution to the mess of the earth. People are thirsty. They know that something is not right or righteous and although many don’t know it, they actually crave for the kingdom of God to set things right. The injustice of our court system that allows a man in a blue uniform to go free although he has pumped bullets into an innocent man because he fears black skin—this kind of stuff will make one thirsty. This and many other events where justice is denied can create a thirst for righteousness among a people. Something is not right when a church is slow to condemn the actions of a racist. Something is not right when those in authority persecute the poor and defenseless because they love money more than God. Something is not right when you proclaim that you are thirsty and others reject or ignore your dehydration rebuffing that its fiction. Young men are thirsty for an opportunity beyond turning 18. Young women are thirsty to be understood and valued for what they offer and not vilified or stereotyped.
Our thirst is a surface signal that something deep down is not right and if it is not addressed then death is soon to follow. Observers can ignore thirst or attempt to address the thirst that they see another has. The Romans soldiers in John 19 offer Jesus posca (a mixture of wine and vinegar). Jesus took some, but ultimately it offered no real relief. (John 19:29-30) He died shortly after drinking the posca. A people in crisis exhibit a cry for justice otherwise they know they are soon to expire. In communities all over this country there are black and brown people proclaiming, “I thirst”, but too often water is a privilege for only a few. Unlike Jesus’ death, black bodies have no redemptive value as an atoning substitute—black bodies dying remind us of an already widely known problem. The hope that we have is that the death and resurrection of Jesus is redemptive. He is the living water that nourishes the weak, hungry and the thirsty among us. There are whole communities that could be described as thirsty; these are those arid places that gasp for life in the face of oppression and injustice. Jesus Himself establishes His kingdom in these dusty, dry places. He experienced loss so that we would have hope.