The people who saw Jesus hanging on the cross would have had no trouble believing he was human. The words, “I thirst,” would not have surprised them as they watched him die a slow and painful death. It would have been more a struggle for them to believe that he was the One sent by God- God’s chosen Son-fully divine. If that be the case-how could he possibly be dying on a cross? How could he thirst? Human, yes… but Divine?
The Gospel according to John takes great pains to show that Jesus was divine. Repeatedly Jesus claims to be one with God the Father, that to know him is to know God. He speaks of himself as the Bread of Heaven, the living water. Following along in John, we come to the scene at the cross with almost the opposite expectation as the crowd gathered there that day. Jesus is divine, yes…but Human? Jesus is the living water, sure…but thirsty?
It is much easier for me to look to Jesus as the living water than to see his thirst. Much easier to imagine a God who is only a source of strength and comfort rather than a God who chooses to enter into our human experience – our thirst. A big part of me wants to tune out this painful cry, “I thirst,” and go straight to the joy of Easter, the triumphant shout, “He is risen.”
Jesus cries out, “I thirst.” I respond to this cry with a sense of helplessness. How difficult it is to witness someone in pain, someone crying out, particularly a family member or friend, or someone we care for. We want to do something about it, take away the pain, satisfy the need. Quench their thirst. We might search for something to say, something we can do and still wind up short. Still hear the cry, “I thirst.” Imagine Mary, the mother of Jesus, and how she must have felt hearing this cry knowing there was nothing more she could do but watch. What a sense of helplessness!
And yet, what a word of grace it is to know that when we thirst, when we long for the health and wholeness that continually escapes us- God is not only watching from a distance, but has through Jesus entered into our struggle. What good news! God is with us! We need not hide our thirst, our deepest needs, for fear that we are not worthy of God’s attention. In Jesus, God has noticed our needs, shared in our thirst.
I respond to the cry of Jesus, “I thirst,” with both a sense of helplessness that I can not take the thirst away as well as a sense of hopefulness that in Jesus, God shares my thirst, our thirst.
Madeleine L’Engle in her book Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage describes her struggle as she deals with her husband’s declining health and impending death. As she sits beside her husband who is sleeping a restless sleep in the unfamiliar hospital bed she writes,
I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.
In the darkness. In our thirst. In our deepest needs. God is with us. Amen.