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The Seven Last Words from the Cross: “I Thirst!”

For what does He thirst? Surely not for the narcotic mentioned in Mark 15:36. No, Jesus thirsts for more important things, but the Cross separates outsiders from the disciples.

(Image: Ricky Turner @ricky_turner | Unsplash.com)

Irony and misunderstanding dot the landscape of St. John’s Gospel. The Johannine Jesus makes many remarks with huge symbolic importance, only to have His obtuse audience become befuddled or, worse yet, grasp a meaning Our Lord never intended.

This is clearly the case as Christ speaks His fifth word: “I am thirsty” (John 19:28).

For what does He thirst? Surely not for the narcotic mentioned in Mark 15:36. No, Jesus thirsts for more important things, but the Cross separates outsiders from the disciples. So, while non-believers do not comprehend His meaning, the faithful need only recall the words He spoke to them so often and so tenderly, especially the very night before He would die. Thus they are ready to hear and to understand these cryptic words, for to them “has been given a knowledge of the mysteries of the reign of God, but it has not been given to others” (Matt. 13:11).

Jesus thirsts “to drink the cup the Father has given” Him (Jn 18:11). The kenosis or self-emptying, so movingly described by St. Paul (cf. Ph 2:6-11), will not be fully achieved until the chalice of pain is emptied, drunk willingly and lovingly by the Father’s Son. Once He begins the cup of obedience and suffering, He thirsts until the divine Will is accomplished. No half-hearted activity will do. The redemption of the world requires the same total abandon as the world’s creation. The Spirit, too, will be lavish in the world’s sanctification. Too much love has been poured out already to destroy it with a niggardly response now.

He thirsts to return to His heavenly Father. “I have given you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. Do you now, Father, give me glory at your side, a glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn 17:6). Of course, He and the Father are one (cf. Jn 14:10 f), a unity not broken by the divine condescension in the mystery of the Incarnation. In a sense, His desire to return to the Father’s right hand is motivated by the same altruism which first promoted the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery itself.

He thirsts to complete the salvation of the world. His obedience, manifested in His Passion, needs to be sealed with the last drop of His Blood. His Father, in turn, will receive this sacrifice, sealing it with the Resurrection. And so, “it is much better for you if I go. If I fail to go, the Paraclete will never come to you, whereas if I go, I will send him to you” (Jn 16:7). And how will this salvation be completed? “I am indeed going to prepare a place for you, and then I shall come back to take you with me, that where I am you also may be” (Jn 14:3).

He thirsts to satiate us: “No one who believes in me shall ever thirst” (Jn 6:35). How strange that the source of living water (cf. Jn 7:38) should be thirsty, but He is because He cannot be the font of eternal life until He has encountered death. In that moment, from His wounded side, flow out water and blood (cf. Jn 19:34), symbols of the sacramental life of the Church – Baptism and Eucharist, by which we are washed clean. Only in knowing thirst can He assure us that we will never thirst; only in dying can He destroy our death. Are we face to face with a contradiction or a paradox? Our answer reveals whether we belong to the world or to Christ. “For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. The man who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:55).

During His earthly life and ministry, the Lord declared, “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for holiness; they shall have their fill” (Matt. 5:6). He was now on the brink of beholding the fulfillment of one of His own promises. The English poet, Christopher Marlowe, realized the “transferability” of it all, capturing the essence so beautifully: “See, see, Christ’s blood streams in the firmament. One drop will save my soul, half a drop, oh my Christ.”

It is precisely this reality which causes us to echo the Lord’s “I thirst” until we have our fill with Him in the Kingdom He is preparing for us.

(Editor’s note: This is the fifth of seven reflections by Fr. Stravinskas on the Seven Last Words, leading up to Good Friday. They were originally preached on Good Friday 2017 at the “Tre Ore” at Holy Innocents Church, Manhattan.)

 “Seven Last Words from the Cross: ‘Father, forgive them…’” (March 23, 2018)
 “Seven Last Words from the Cross: ‘This day you will be with Me in paradise’” (March 24, 2018)
• “Seven Last Words from the Cross: ‘Woman, Behold Your Son’” (March 25, 2018)
“Seven Last Words from the Cross: ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?'” (March 26, 2018)


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About Peter M.J. Stravinskas 115 Articles
Reverend Peter M.J. Stravinskas is the editor of the The Catholic Response, and the author of over 500 articles for numerous Catholic publications, as well as several books, including The Catholic Church and the Bible and Understanding the Sacraments.

4 Comments

  1. Always enjoy your scriptural insights Fr Stravinskas. If I may comment on “He thirsts to satiate us: ‘No one who believes in me shall ever thirst'”. My thoughts have evolved from actual thirst and physical hardship to a thirst for our love particularly since reading Teresa of Avila John of the Cross. Although God is entirely satisfied in himself the Son of Man brings a different mysterious dimension. That God would enter our world as the Word and experience suffering and death Proving the Depth of His Love. Can the Almighty suffer the pangs of love and thirst for our love remains a mystery and a reality.

  2. Jesus was suffering on the most horrible torture apparatus man had invented until that time. It still is a pretty horrible invention. He had been whipped, stripped of His clothes and left out in the cold night, whipped again with a cat o’ nine tails or something like it. Then he was forced to carry his own cross over the winding route from the Antonia Fortress west to where now is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher a distance of about 600 meters (2,000 feet). Then he was nailed to that cross. After the cross was set up straight, with him on it, imagine that, he was left there to die.
    He must have lost a lot of blood, peaces of skin and even muscle tissue during that whipping process. The crucifixion itself must have been horrible, with his open, whipped wound to the bone for a back against the rough, splintering wood, hanging on to nails through his wrists, or hands? trying not to hang himself in his own clavicles. With all the liquid he lost, and all the torture, do you think he might possibly have been just thirsty and suffering pain we cannot even imagine?

    I am not trying to diminish the suffering or the sacrifice, far from it. But we are praying to the worst torture apparatus of His time, making a ‘statue’ of Him and hanging it on the wood as if a crucifixion is something beautiful. The cross is a killing apparatus, nothing more but nothing less. Wine, drugged or not, might have come as a release, for a short time.

  3. Some points need to be brought into this discussion.
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    Matthew 26:26-29 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE) says:
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    The Institution of the Lord’s Supper
    26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
    *
    In the Passover Seder the participants drink four cups of wine, the last of which is the Cup of Consummation. It is my understanding that at the Last Supper the cup that was used by Christ in the Institution of the Eucharist was the third cup, the Cup of Blessing. The Passover Seder was left incomplete, and it was not completed until Christ consumed the fourth cup when He took the bitter wine vinegar that He was given on a sponge during the Crucifixion:
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    John 19:28-30 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)

    28 After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A bowl full of vinegar stood there; so they put a sponge full of the vinegar on hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished”; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
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    Hyssop branches were used to apply the blood of the lamb to the doorposts during the Passover:
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    Exodus 12:22 Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE)

    22 Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood which is in the basin; and none of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning.
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    Calvary was an integral part of the Last Supper.

  4. Indeed, the “First Mass” was a liturgy in two parts: the first, at the Last Supper of Holy Thursday; the second, its consummation on the altar of the Cross on Good Friday.

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