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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