“I thirst,” stands alone as a stark statement of one who has suffered so much: the pain and suffering of the scourging; the sweat and toil of the Via Dolorosa; the blood lost and the struggle to breathe in the slow suffocation and the crucifixion. It is no surprise that the one crucified would seek to alleviate his raging thirst with a drink.

Pure, refreshing water may have brought some comfort to the dying man, but what was in the action of offering vinegar instead? Proverbs states that the “vinegar to the teeth is like smoke to the eyes.” Psalm 68 says, “For they gave me poison, in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” This hardly suggests an act of compassion, more continual abuse by Jesus’ captors.

Yet maybe something was moving in the hearts of the onlookers. Maybe this wine was all that was available. Mark’s gospel speaks of the centurion, who exclaims at Jesus’ death “Surely this was the Son of God.” Jesus in his portrayal of the final judgement and the difference between the righteous and the unrighteous stated, “I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink…as you did it to one of the least of these, brethren, you did it to me.”

Set in the broader context this state John tells us that his statement of Jesus “I thirst” was his last act of obedience in fulfilling scripture. It suggests more than a dying man’s thirst but the fulfilment of his vocation.

In Mark and Matthew, the cry of dereliction is taken from Psalm 21. Jesus’ actions and words bring to reality all that was promised and foretold by God through the scriptures- leading us onwards to the wonder of our salvation. Raymond Brown, who insists that in John we are witnessing, not random, chaotic suffering but what was planned in the mind of God: “I thirst” he says points subtly to the latter part of Psalm 22:

“I am poured out like water
My strength is dried up like a potsherd
My tongue sticks to my jaws
You lay me in the dust of death.
A Company of evildoers encircle me,
They have pierced my hands and feet-
They stare and gloat over me
They divide my garments among them
And for my clothing they cast lots.

Jesus makes the psalm his own- a sign of his loving obedience to his heavenly Father’s will. It leads in the next statement of Jesus, “It is finished.” Or ‘completed.’ The job is done.

Many who have considered this statement: I thirst; speak about it being a reflection of Jesus’ own heartfelt passion for those who are the object of his love. A bit like a parable, for those who have ears, let them hear. Jesus says “I thirst” and maybe we should be asking “What for?” Certainly from the Beatitudes we glean that those who thirst for righteousness shall be satisfied. It is a promise and principle of the Kingdom of God.

We are only too aware that it is often our passions that lead us into sin. We might have thought that if only I could neutralise my passions, kill them off, then my struggle to not do the wrong and do the right would be easier.

C.S Lewis argues that our passions in themselves are not evil, but a part of God’s gift to us. He says the problem is that we do not desire enough. We satisfy our passions with that which does not last and is a counterfeit of the real thing. The real object of our desire is Christ.

Jesus thirsts for righteousness and promises those who also thirst- have a passion for righteousness will also be satisfied. The object of Jesus’ thirst is to do the will of his father but is also a thirst for those who are lost, alone and who have wandered far from his presence. It is a thirst even for those who have persecuted and tortured him. It is a thirst that we might repent and come to him in faith- the one who is the fountain of love and life. He thirsts that we might thirst in return, that we might have a passion for the Lord Jesus Christ and walk in the way of life.

Humanity’s response to the passion and thirst of God for us has been to offer the first and best we have, poor though it might be, but too often we have been mean with our responses. Only giving out of what we can afford, what is spare, that which we least desire. It costs us little.

The cost of Jesus’ thirst for us lies before us on the cross. He constantly cries out to us. “”I thirst for your love.” Let it not be said of us, in response:

“For food they gave me poison and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

Let it rather be that we have responded “My love, my Lord, in weakness and with fear and trembling, I have sought you, to give you my all.”