Friday, March 29, 2013

I Thirst

I Thirst.  The sixth word from the cross.  We all need water.  Life cannot be sustained without it.  No doubt Jesus needed water--surely he was very thirsty.  I find it likely that his last drink was his fourth cup of wine at the end of his passover feast with meal was a long celebration (each section of the ritual includes its own symbolic cup of wine).  They would have finished around midnight, then they traveled to olive garden--actually it was the garden of the olive press (or we know Gethsemane). Then after a long night, and before a longer day, Jesus went off to pray... long enough that Peter, James and John each fell asleep on three different occasions.  For as many as three hours Jesus prayed in the garden.  When at around 3 am--Jesus was arrested (shortly before dawn).  Peter watched the abusive questioning from a distance until the break of dawn when the cock crowed.  I don't suspect the priest who questioned him gave Jesus any water.

Then early in the morning the mob moves to Pilate's headquarters, where he was handed over to the hands of his torturers--I can't see them offering water between the beatings and the mocking.  Surely by noon the sleep deprived Jesus, who has not had a drink in about 12 hours... (of course wine is more likely to dehydrate a person than hydrate them) Jesus must thirst.  Tired dehydrated, and beaten, he was nailed to the cross.  Breathing must have been labored, no doubt causing dry mouth.  Precious fluids dripping from his wrists and feet.  Finally, having had enough--"I thirst."

We assume that he meant, "I thirst for water."  But he didn't say "Water," he said--"Thirst."

During better days--during his teaching ministry, Jesus met a woman at Jacob's well.  He asked her for water--but she challenged him--who are you a Jewish Rabbi to ask me a Samaritan woman for a drink of water?  You remember this story...  You remember his response.  "If you had asked me for a drink, I would have given you living water and you would never thirst again!"  And the thirsty woman said, "Give me this water!"

Could the source of living water--the source of that which once sipped a person is never thirsty again... could that source ever be thirsty for water?

Also, during better days--during his teaching ministry, as the crowds gathered in Galilee, Jesus went up on a mountain and began to teach--and at one point said, "Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be filled!

Might it be that Jesus' "I thirst" was not a cry for water, but for righteousness?  After all--it is the sixth word--there is only one word remaining.  Why does he, after 15 hours of dehydration, nearing the moment when John says Jesus commended his spirit to God... why does he now need water?  But the crowd--the very people who are crucifying him.  The ones about whom he just recently prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do..."  those very people who stand in need of forgiveness offer him a drink--they raise up a sponge that has been dipped in sour wine.

When I hear sour wine, I think of well known phrase--sour grapes. it seems to me that grapes are to wine as sour grapes are to sour wine...  And so I recall one last scripture... the prophet Jeremiah spoke about sour grapes.  He said there was a day coming when children would no longer eat the sour grapes of their ancestors--they would no longer be punished for the sins of their parents.  Rather they would only be accountable for their own sins--they would eat their own sour grapes.

When Jesus speaks the sixth word from the cross, "I thirst," his thirst is quenched not with life giving water, but with sour wine--sour wine offered by sinners.  The people to whom the sour wine belonged handed over the juice of sour grapes--the fruit of their sin to the one who said "I thirst."

Perhaps they meant for the sour wine to be a final humiliation.  It could be that they intended it to be symbolic of the supossed "Sins" for which they believed they crucified him.  Maybe they thought it would dull the pain.  Whatever their intentions, I must believe that through the sour wine, they quenched his thirst.  Its the only thirst that Jesus ever promised would be quenched--a thirst for righteousness.  By giving him the sour wine, they hand over the sour grapes that belong to all of us--the fruit of our sin, and Jesus is quenched.  By taking on the sin of those who crucified him, the sin of all of us, he has created a path for righteousness.

We need not feel sorry for Jesus today.  We need not mourn his death, or feel particularly guilty.  Today we need only be grateful.  Thanks be to the God who sent his Son whose desire, whose thirst in the moment of great dehydration was not for water, but for righteousness.  And from the cross he cried out I thirst, and we quenched his thirst by raising our sinfulness, our brokenness--our sour grapes up to his lips, he drank the cup that was prepared for him, and was filled as he created a path of righteousness for us.  Praise be to God.  Amen.

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