Rev Janice Aiton
We talk of dying of thirst, but I doubt any of us have really been in that situation. We may have felt thirsty and needed our thirst quenched, but in our reading, Jesus is literally dying of thirst.
“Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
Let’s consider the situation:
Jesus is on the centre cross. Every breath is a huge effort-heaving, gasping, fighting for oxygen. Resting upon the nail holes while he inhales. Sweat pouring of him. making some strange guttural noises. The experienced soldiers had heard it before- the death rattle. With one last gasp, a sound comes out. You can barely hear it two or three feet away. More like a moan. It is one word in the Greek- dipso, meaning, I thirst. The soldiers had a bowl of sour vinegar. It was a kind of vinegar wine mixed with water. It was the cheapest drink of the day. It was the drink of the common man. It was the drink of the Roman soldier. Whenever the soldiers went out to do their work, they carried it with them in what would be their version of the canteen.
No doubt one of the soldiers offered Jesus a drink of his own wine vinegar, using his own sponge. A soldier would not be required to share his drink with the criminals under his care. But one soldier had seen Jesus dying unlike any other criminal he had ever seen. No cursing, blaming or anger. The soldier offered his wine vinegar as an act of mercy. It was a generous thing to do.
Only in John’s gospel does it mention that the sponge was on a stalk of the hyssop. You remember that in the book of Exodus the hyssop plant was dipped in blood and the blood of the lamb was put on the doorpost. Here we have links to the first Passover and Jesus’s crucifixion in which he is the sacrificial lamb.
John’s gospel works at so any levels, so there is the physical thirst and the need to moisten Jesus’ lips so that he could say in a loud voice “it is finished.” “I thirst” reveals Jesus’ humanity, his physicality- he needed a drink. In John’s gospel we remember Jesus being thirsty at the well and asking the Samaritan woman for a drink. I thirst speaks of the horror of crucifixion. But I wonder if the words “I thirst” are not also implying that Jesus is thirsting for his work to be done and complete, that he is thirsty for righteousness and for the work God had given him to be fulfilled? Is it also about him perhaps thirsting for God, for Jesus is alone, abandoned, forsaken? He is thirsty for that intimacy with God again. How often are we encouraged in scripture, if we are thirsty to come to God? Is it not ironic that Jesus who offers living water, is thirsty himself?
Who are thirsty in our world today and how can we help?
In what ways are you thirsty?
Jesus was willing to be served by the Samaritan woman and the soldier… he needed the support and help of others. To what extent are we willing to be served?
Choose a word or phrase that speaks to you, and take it into the silence.
HYMN When I survey the wondrous cross
in all our thirst,
and all our longing,
in all failure and all our devotion,
you are there.
Come alongside us in the darkness.
and walk with us through all anguish,
Lead us into the light,
and satisfy our thirst,
that we might grow in faith and grace
and reflect your love to others. Amen.