The Fifth Word:
“I am thirsty.”
A painting of the Cruxifixion, from a church in Taormina, Italy. Photo by Mark Roberts
No doubt Jesus experienced extreme thirst while being crucified. He would have lost a substantial quantity of bodily fluid, both blood and sweat, through what he had endured even prior to crucifixion. Thus his statement, “I am thirsty” was, on the most obvious level, a request for something to drink. In response, the soldiers gave Jesus “sour wine” (v. 29), a cheap beverage common among lower class people in the time of Jesus.
John notes that Jesus said “I am thirsty,” not only as a statement of physical reality, but also in order to fulfill the Scripture. Though there is no specific reference in the text of the Gospel, it’s likely that John was thinking of Psalm 69, which includes this passage:
Their insults have broken my heart,
and I am in despair.
If only one person would show some pity;
if only one would turn and comfort me.
But instead, they give me poison for food;
they offer me sour wine for my thirst.
As he suffered, Jesus embodied the pain of the people of Israel, that which had been captured in the Psalms. Jesus was suffering for the sin of Israel, even as he was taking upon himself the sin of the world.
As I reflect on Jesus’ statement, “I am thirsty,” I keep thinking of my own thirst. It’s nothing like that of Jesus. Rather, I am thirsty for him. My soul yearns for the living water that Jesus supplies (John 4:10; 7:38-39). I rejoice in the fact that he suffered physical thirst on the cross – and so much more – so that my thirst for the water of life might be quenched.
Questions for Reflection
How do you respond to Jesus’ statement “I am thirsty”? What does this statement suggest to you about Jesus? About yourself?
O Lord, once again I thank you for what you suffered on the cross. Besides extraordinary pain, you also experienced extreme thirst. All of this was part and parcel of your taking on our humanity so that you might take away our sin.
Dear Lord, in your words “I am thirsty” I hear the cry of my own heart. I too am thirsty, Lord, not for physical drink. I don’t need sour wine. Rather, I need the new wine of your kingdom to flood my soul. I need to be refreshed by your living water. I yearn for your Spirit to fill me once again.
I am thirsty, Lord, for you. Amen.
Resources for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter
The Seven Last Words of Christ: Reflections for Holy Week
(the seven-part series, of which today’s post is part 5)