The Last Words from the Cross: Day Five

Day One: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Day Two: “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Day Three: “Woman, behold thy son! Behold, thy Mother!” (John 19:26-27)
Day Four: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Day Five: “I Thirst.” (John 19:28)
Day Six: “It Is Finished,” (John 19:30)
Day Seven: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 26:46)

I think we misread the experience of Christ on the cross when we present it as extraordinary suffering. It was agonizing, but not atypical. The Romans crucified tens of thousands of people exactly the same way that they crucified Jesus. Other cruel regimes have inflicted equally horrific things on their perceived enemies. People have been burned alive because they believed the wrong thing about the Eucharist or because somebody thought they were witches. People have been raped and tortured and murdered for being affiliated with the wrong sides in military confrontations. The Holocaust happened. Human beings have always been good at creating ways for other human beings to suffer.

What Christ suffered on the cross was ordinary suffering of the sort that millions of other humans have experienced. But John uses a powerful symbol to turn this scene into a typological drama. After Jesus says proclaims his thirst, “there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a sponge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth” (John 19:20). The Israelites used hyssop branches as a brush to paint their doors with lamb’s blood during the Exodus so that the angel of death would pass over their homes (Exodus 12:22). Hyssop has been used ever since in the preparation of the lamb for the Passover feast. John uses this tradition to present Jesus Christ as the new Lamb of God.

But let’s hold the symbols in abeyance for now. When we move too quickly to the symbolic aspects of a text, we often miss some of the really important stuff right at the surface. I am quite sure that Christ’s purpose in saying “I thirst” was not to give John the opportunity to stage a symbolic reenactment of a Passover feast. Jesus was thirsty because he had been hanging on a cross all day in the sun with no food or drink, and he was losing all of his body fluids. Any human being in such circumstances would have been thirsty.

Despite being God, Jesus was thirsty as a human, which means that God understands our thirst. And we can substitute almost every other form of human suffering here: He was hungry. He was exhausted. He experienced anxiety and depression. He was sad. He was abused. He was ashamed, He was betrayed. His heart was broken. His world was destroyed. He understands suffering from the inside—not extraordinary suffering of the sort that gods experience, but ordinary suffering of the sort that humans experience every day. Jesus was very, very thirsty.

And that is the point.

Comments

  1. “And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. But I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

    Every time I take the water in remembrance of Him, I am impressed and moved by the physicality of the New Testament. A man who thirsts is a perfect image.

  2. Olde Skool says:

    This one is, perhaps, my favorite of the series. Thank you.

  3. His comment that he thirsts also suggests that there was something that others could do for him to alleviate his suffering. As with Simon and the cross, he did allow others to serve him in the midst of his agony.

    Maybe when we see other outcasts surrounded and scorned and thirsting for deliverance from their own suffering we can come to their aid and help quench their thirst?

    There is some interesting connection with the lambs blood and the red wine, which had soured into vinegar (but not the distilled vinegar which our modern minds are probably drawn to). It was offered to him 2 times and he refused. The last time he asked for it and drank some.

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