April 9, 2005 — 1:20 PM
"I Am Thirsty"
"I am thirsty." Such a simple statement. How many of us make this statement ourselves at some point during each day? With this statement, Jesus acknowledged that a very basic human need was not being met for him as he neared his final moments.
"I am thirsty." Such a complex statement from a man who offered living water to all who came to him. Why would this one, who had met the physical and spiritual needs of people throughout his ministry, why would he be thirsty now? What does it mean for him to fulfill the scripture by saying this?
"I am thirsty," words said by Jesus as he hung, dying on the cross, while the women including his mother and the beloved disciple, stood near.
It's not hard to imagine why Jesus would be thirsty at this point. He had been at the center of a whirlwind of activity for the past week; a whirlwind that picked up speed following the dinner with his disciples the evening before. At that dinner, water played a very important role: Jesus interrupted the dinner to wash the feet of those present. He wanted to give his disciples one final, tangible lesson on his ministry of serving. This act gave him one last chance to try to teach his disciples about who he was and what was going to happen. He went on at great length only to end where he began - with the disciples not understanding what Jesus had said or what was going to happen.
From this scene of sitting, drinking, eating, and teaching Jesus became involved in a frenzy of activity. Following dinner he went to a garden with his disciples - a place where he had gone with them before. Soon after arriving, they were met by Judas Iscariot leading Roman soldiers and Jewish police. These ask which one was Jesus. Jesus identified himself two times and asked that the disciples be let go since he was the one they wanted. They heeded his request and took just Jesus, although he was followed by the beloved disciple and Simon Peter.
Jesus was taken by these authorities to appear before three different people - Annas (the father of the high priest), Caiaphas (the high priest), and Pilate (the Roman-appointed ruler of the area). All three questioned him about his teaching and his disciples. The writer of John's gospel gives the most attention to his time with Pilate to highlight Pilate's finding: Jesus was guilty of no crime. Through questioning Jesus and the Jewish leaders who brought him for judgment, Pilate tried to discover why the Jewish leaders called for his death. But he was left unconvinced that Jesus deserved such a punishment. Finally, after all attempts to save Jesus were rejected by the people, Pilate relented and turned Jesus over so that the people could enforce the penalty of judgment themselves.
And so, after many hours of questioning, Jesus, beaten and bleeding, was forced to carry his own cross to the place called Golgotha. It was there that he was crucified and left to die.
After all of this, it is no surprise that Jesus was thirsty. Jerusalem is a hot, dusty place and Jesus had just endured many grueling hours of political wrangling and torture. Can't you just hear him say, "I am thirsty"?
But those for whom the Gospel of John was written would have been confused by this statement. Throughout this gospel, Jesus provided abundantly for those who hungered and thirsted. Jesus not only provided for the physical needs of those who came to him, but he offered them spiritual nourishment - nourishment that would not go away and need to be replenished.
Those listening to Jesus' words of his thirst would remember the time that Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well and offered her living water - a spring gushing up to eternal life. They would remember Jesus' admonishment to the crowds who followed him because of the sign of the feeding of the multitude. Jesus told them that the food wasn't why they should follow him - he the bread of life who quells all hunger and thirst - was the real reason they should follow him. And the people hearing John's gospel would also remember Jesus' words during one festival of Booths inviting all who thirst to come to him and drink of him through belief so that they would be filled with the living water.
With all of these words from Jesus ringing in their, and our, ears the question arises: Why would Jesus be thirsty now? Why wouldn't Jesus be able to meet his own need in the way he had met the needs of others so many times before? The writer of the gospel knew that those listening would remember Jesus' words and acts and so the writer adds a note (which is in parenthesis in modern translations) that Jesus says these words to fulfill scripture.
Jesus' attempts to teach his disciples and others about who he was and what he had come to do seemed to fall mainly on deaf ears throughout his ministry. He tried to show them who he was by performing signs. He tried to help them understand by saying and doing things that fulfilled the prophecies of the scripture. The Jewish people knew that scripture pointed to the saving works of God in their history. They knew that it was prophesied that the one who fulfilled the scripture would be the one sent by God to be the savior of the world - the messiah. That is why Jesus said the words, "I am thirsty" - it was foretold in the scriptures that the one sent by God would say that. He had to say it so that those listening would realize who he really was. And that is precisely what the writer wants the listeners to realize - Jesus isn't expressing a deep human need as we might think from the words he says. Jesus is proclaiming through these very human words that he is the savior sent by God.
And he proclaims this while hanging, dying, on a cross.
"I am thirsty. But I am sent to be your source of living water."
"I am thirsty. But believe in me - hanging here, suffering much physical pain - and receive the spring of water gushing up to eternal life."
"I am thirsty. But this thirst, like all of my life, points beyond me to the one who sent me - the very God who acts to save us all."
As we gather here today to listen to Jesus' last words, we are called to hear that same message. Jesus admonishes us to stop looking for nourishment from the things of this world. He calls us to stop looking for eternal life to come from our jobs, our recreation, our entertainment, or our relationships with people.
Instead he bids us come to him so that he may offer us springs of living water that will refresh us and lift us up to eternal life. We are called to see Jesus' life and ministry as signs of the one who sent him - God the Father - who desires to provide for our every need.
Believe in Jesus, the servant who washed his followers' feet. Believe in Jesus, who died a lowly death on a cross. And in so believing, believe in God creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all.
Let God use that belief to fill you with living water so that your life too can be a sign of God's wonderful work in our history.