The gospel of John tells us while Jesus was hanging on the cross, he suddenly cried out in a loud voice, “I thirst!”
Pondering these words of Jesus, I think of layers of meaning. In a literal way, Jesus is losing fluids at a tremendous rate on the cross (to put it mildly). The life force is literally draining out of his human body. In this sense, it is natural that he is thirsty. So some view the bible verse this way.
I also think of the rich symbolic imagery in John’s gospel. This is the writer who tells us the story of Jesus being tired and hungry after all his ministry work, sitting down at a well, and asking the Samaritan woman to give him a drink. In their conversation, Jesus says he could give her living water (water that is like a stream, clean and moving, inner “water” of the Holy Spirit).
While Jesus is talking with the woman, the disciples have gone off to get food in the village–and when they return, Jesus is no longer hungry (or thirsty) and tells them that his food is to do the will of God. (John 4)
It also in John’s gospel we hear Jesus cry out to a great crowd:
Let anyone who is thirsty, come to me and drink.
Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said,
“Rivers of flowing water will flow from his heart.” *
By this he meant the Spirit,
whom those who believed in him were later to receive.
Up to that time the Spirit had not been given,
since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37-38)
Throughout the centuries, Christians have found the words “I thirst” to have deep meaning. Mother Teresa of Calcutta had the words written near the crucifixes in her convents. The words “I thirst” reminded her of many things: the way Jesus thirsts for others to come to him, the way Jesus thirsted in his sufferings in life and dying, the way her beloved poor people hungered and thirst, both in the literal sense and in the way people all over the world, including “the rich” thirst for love.
Jesus thirsts to be close to us, to commune with us in the deep spiritual relationship of God’s love–even from the cross he thought of you and me. He was longing to bring about the reconciliation of heaven and earth, God and earthling.
And that is food and drink for further thought as we continue our journey through Holy Week.
Until next time, Amen!
* For example, see Isaiah 12:3.
** Read more about Mother Teresa’s “I Thirst” image, with thanks to “A Drop In the Ocean” website: http://asingledropintheocean.com/2014/03/17/my-week-serving-the-poor-of-st-louis-with-the-missionaries-of-charity-mother-teresa/