The Word of Distress

John 19:28: Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”

This statement traditionally is called “The Word of Distress” and commonly compared and contrasted with the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan Woman at the Well in John 4.

Jesus became dehydrated by the loss of blood and sweat. Having had nothing to eat or drink since the Last Supper the night before, he was painfully thirsty. John, like the other Gospels, says someone offered Jesus a drink of vinegar. Only John says this person placed a sponge dipped in wine on a hyssop branch and held it to Jesus’ lips. Hyssop branches had figured significantly in the Bible.

I don’t know about you, but when I am thirsty, vinegar is the very last thing I want. A cool glass of water usually hits the spot. Jesus in immense pain was offered sour thick vinegar. This was insult to injury. Jesus died with bitter taste in his mouth. Maybe the next time you swig down some cool remember that Jesus, the savior of the world died thirsty.

Thirst was one of the most distressing circumstances attending the crucifixion. Normally, when we have a dry or sore throat and need water, we feel we could die for a mouthful of cool liquid. On a hot day, when we take a long swig of cold water, we feel as if our entire bodies have been soothed. A momentary sip of water can last us for a while.

Thirst is not only a physical insufficiency, but can be spiritual deficiency. We thirst for justice, love, peace, joy, and community. We thirst for friendship, fellowship, and a hand to hold. When we face darkness, we thirst for the light. When we face sickness and injury, we thirst for healing. When we face pain and loss, we thirst for peace and joy.

The wounds of Christ were highly inflamed, a raging fever, by the sufferings on the cross, and this accompanied by insupportable thirst. I believe the thirst that causes Christ to cry out was not just a physical thing that water could quench, but also a spiritual thirst that only God could slake. When sickness is raging in the human body, we cry out for healing. When tragedy rocks our life, we cry out for peace and joy. When we feel lost or abandoned, we cry out for the love and grace of God found in Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior.

Think of the reality of Jesus dying on the cross to pay for your sins and mine. Jesus died for our sins. Jesus died, so that we might live in and through Him fully for the glory of God. It is something that I will never fully understand in this life. I need to thank Him more and more often for dying for me, for you, for all of us.

As we make our way through Good Friday to Easter morning, we should look deeply at our lives, the good and bad. Pray to God thanking Him for making a way for us to approach boldly the throne of Our Creator-king God. We should also pray for God to heal our bad parts and increase our good parts, not for our sake but to bring more glory to Our Father and His Son Jesus Christ.

Do you thirst? Are you crying out for release of your pain, your tragedy, your spiritual scarcity?

I think God tells us through the life, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus that no matter how dark, how awful, how horrible it is now that light will shine. You will find that a new day has dawned and God has made you into a new person in a new world. We might have to go through the loss of all we hold dear in order to see the light of God shinning into our lives, but we will see it.

Thomas Merton: “In one sense we are always traveling, and traveling as if we did not know where we were going. In another sense, we have already arrived. We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, and that is why we are traveling and in darkness. But we already possess Him by grace, and therefore, in that sense, we have arrived and are dwelling in the light.”


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