April 7, 2023 ~ Sermon by lay preacher Ginnie Glassman
THE FIFTH WORD
John 19:28-29 – “I THIRST”
After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the scripture), “I thirst.” A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth.
I often wake up during the night with my mouth dry and my tongue feeling stuck to the roof of my mouth. A sip of water relieves the dryness and thirst and I go back to sleep.
In this passage when Jesus says “I thirst”, it brings to mind those nighttime wake-ups. My discomfort is so very minimal compared to the thirst Jesus suffered. He was in a dry desert country. It was noon, the hottest part of the day. He was physically exhausted. I can almost feel the dry sand, the dust, the arid air, the hot winds, the beating sun and my mouth begins to feels dry. That he could even speak surprises me.
But there is much more meaning behind those two words that Jesus speaks: “I thirst”. Throughout the Scriptures, water is equated with life. When Moses led the Israelites through the desert, they complained to him, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?” (Exodus 17:3). In this hot dry climate, where water is scarce, the lack of it kills humans, plants and animals. The need and search for water is always on their minds.
Throughout the Bible, this need for water influences the language and images that people pray. These continual references to water and thirst show how vital it was for people and how much they thought about it. Reading through the psalms, we hear:
“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Psalm 42:2)
“I lift up my hands to you in prayer: like dry ground, my soul is thirsty for you.” (Psalm 143:6)
“God, you are my God…. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh longs for you, in a dry and weary land, where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1)
When Jesus is teaching people, he also speaks of water and thirst:
At the end of an important festival in Jerusalem, Jesus declares “Whoever is thirsty should come to me and drink…Whoever believes in me, streams of life-giving water will pour out from his heart.” (John 7:37-39)
In the Beatitudes, he states, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)
Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well: “If you only knew what God gives and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would ask him, and he would give you life-giving water.” (John 4:10)
At Gethsemane, Jesus prays to his Father with an image of drinking. “My Father if this cup of suffering cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done” (Matthew 26:42) And knowing the suffering that his “yes” to God’s will would bring brought its own mental anguish. He thirsts for this time to be over, to be past the suffering and pain and reunited with his Father.
When the Israelites had complained and threatened to stone Moses for bringing them out into the desert, Moses asks God, “What shall I do with these people?” (Exodus 17:4) God answers by telling Moses to strike a rock and water will pour forth – water so they would live. Jesus must have asked that same question of God and himself. “What shall I do with these people?” All his time, energy and life itself went into teaching the Israelites and his disciples about God and his kingdom. He continually thirsted to reach people’s hearts and teach them a better way.
At the Crucifixion, Jesus is at his most human and vulnerable. He is drained of energy, at the end of his mission, tormented and tortured by the authorities, suffering with physical, mental, emotional and spiritual pain. He is dying for the people he loves. The expression “You cannot give from an empty cup.” comes to mind. Jesus has given himself completely in fulfilling the mission for which he was sent. Jesus has offered himself as the living water of life to all who believe in him.
But as one writer reflects: “I thirst.” He who was the source of living water is now thirsty as he dies on the cross. The source of life, of grace, of hope, of love, of living water is drying up. The spring is nearly extinguished. (https://www.adamhamilton.com/blog/i-thirst-more-here-than-meets-the-eye/#.ZCMZl3bMIYs)
Jesus told his disciples, “My food and drink is to obey the will of the one who sent me and to finish the work he gave me to do.” (John 4:34) His thirst was to do his Father’s will, to bring the good news of God to the people, to tell them how much God loves us and cares for us. To help us live better lives in harmony with God and with others. He was, no doubt, exhausted and discouraged at the stubbornness and resistance he was met with. The vinegar he is given on the cross for his thirst is so representative of the attitude Jesus endured from those he wanted to teach – the bitterness of his experience with us. Yes, he had disciples but even they did not fully understand his message. Knowing he was sent on a mission, did he feel that he was going to die with work unfinished? Did he feel that his dying would accomplish what it was intended to do? In human terms, did he want to make his Father proud of him?
Jesus came from heaven to be with us. He knew the peace and joy of life in heaven. He knew the comfort of being side by side with his Father. He must have been longing to return there after 33 years of his difficult life on earth. He must have asked “Dad, can I come home now?” knowing that he had given everything to his mission. As the psalm says: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (Psalm 42:2)
So when Jesus says “I thirst,” he means much more than a thirst for water. His thirst encompasses his mission, his life, his prayer. As fully human, he is exhausted and frustrated by his mission on earth, he longs to be joined with his father in heaven, yet he prays for justice and a better world on earth.
And, we know that Jesus is thirsty still for intimacy with us!
What can we do to honor his sacrifice for us? To show him that we are believers in this world? Do we hunger and thirst for righteousness as the Beatitudes tell us? Can we say “I thirst for you, the living God.”? (Psalm 42:2)
Another writer reflects: It is during this moment with the woman at the well, that we truly understand the importance of “thirst.” When Jesus utters his last words, he presents himself to us at his most human and vulnerable form. These are Jesus’ wounds. And at his lowest point, he calls out to have his thirst quenched, for the living water of eternal life. And just like Jesus, so many around us – many who may not look, act, think, or speak like us – are thirsting for more. So we, as followers of Christ, are called to see and empathize with those who are thirsty, and bring them water.
How? Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenseless.” (Isaiah 1:17 MSG)
Jesus, thank you for all you have sacrificed for us. For living and for dying to save us. For pouring out your life-giving water on our world. We want to live better lives in gratitude for your love for us. Please be with us, help us and guide us. Build our thirst for you and God’s Kingdom as we live our days.