“I thirst” (John 19:28)
It was the custom in Jerusalem to ease the sufferings of those who were crucified, by giving them a draught of drugged wine before the torture began, and a charitable association of women in the city had made themselves responsible for this act of mercy.
Jesus, however, had refused this solace because to have accepted it would have meant fulfilling the last and all important part of his ministry with his faculties dulled and his mind bemused. “Keep awake and pray that you may not enter into temptation”, had been his command to the drowsy disciples in Gethsemane (Matthew 26:41), and he applied the same stern rule to himself on Calvary.
The contest with Satan had now narrowed down to the final trial of strength between his will and that of the Prince of Darkness, the one holding steadfastly to his Father, the other striving to alienate him. And Jesus was determined no matter what it cost him in suffering and pain, to have all his faculties alert and sensitive.
More than that. As he had come into this world knowing full well the price he would have to pay for coming, so now, when the account was presented, he would not shrink from willingly paying it in full. Thus, by refusing the drugged potion, he declared his willingness to suffer to the uttermost for our sakes, and so proved, without any room for doubt, his surpassing love for us. “For he had another thirst, the thirst to suffer yet more deeply and to show his love for us more clearly”. (1)
So the hours passed and at last Jesus, who had made known in the words he had already spoken, his care for his enemies, for the penitent, for his Mother and friend, and for his Father, now thought of himself.
The soldiers had finished their midday meal and one of them, who had been refreshing himself with the light acid wine of the country, had some left over. “I thirst” (John 19:28) came the words, and at once that unknown soldier, moved with compassion, ran and filled a sponge with the wine and raised it to the parched lips of the Crucified.
How close does this admission of his human need bring our Lord and our God to us! In becoming Man he identified himself with suffering humanity and became a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And now those two words, “I thirst” seem to sum up his human sufferings.
He knew what it was to be footsore and weary, hungry and thirsty, deserted and denied, betrayed and rejected, and when the severest trial of all came upon him, he would not obstinately stick it out in stoic silence. Instead he uttered those two words which tell us all we want to know of his sympathy and understanding, and of sorrow and suffering willingly shared for our sakes.
So, in the poet’s words,
“Thou wilt feel all, that Thou mayest pity all;
And rather wouldst Thou wrestle with strong pain,
Than overcloud Thy soul,
So clear in agony….” (2)
That acute and burning thirst of his body, however, had its even greater counterpart in the thirst of his soul for the souls of human beings.
It was for them, it was for us, that he hung and suffered there. He had come from the Father’s brightness into the moral and spiritual darkness of this world because his love for us could never rest until he had done all he could to rescue us from everything that can keep us from God, and to bring us to share his own eternal light.
He came to change his enemies into penitents and the penitents into Saints, so that his murderers might become like the Good Thief, and the Good Thief be like St John and his Blessed Mother.
Those are the stages, too, by which his thirst for your soul and mine can alone be satisfied. What point have we reached? Though not like the Saints, are we like the Good Thief in the fullness and depth of our personal sorrow for our sins of thought and of word and of act? Or, if it is not as complete as his, is it at any rate sufficient to distinguish us significantly in God’s eyes from those to whom his Son’s Crucifixion means little or nothing?
For remember, the sincerity of our sorrow at the Crucifixion of Christ may be gauged by the depth and sincerity of our personal penitence. Let us pray then, that this Good Friday, on which we contemplate the immensity of Our Lord’s sufferings for us, may be a new beginning on the road that leads to holiness and to him.
1. Blosius, F-L (1506-1566) cited by Avancini, R.P.N. (1854) Vita et doctrina Jesu Christi, page 140, para 2, Deiters. Available from:
http://books.google.com/books?id=_3RLAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false (Accessed 11 April 2011) (Internet).
2. Keble, J. (1886) 'The Christian year: Tuesday before Easter', In Lacey May, G. (1937) English religious verse, London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd.