Reflections on the thirst of Jesus in the Gospel of John
“Thirst” is a word that appears a few times in the Gospel of St John.
In the famous discussion with the Samaritan woman near the well, Jesus speaks of living water, which quenches the thirst. (John 4:1–15, NRSV).
- Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and will never be thirsty.” (John 6: 34, NRSV).
- Living waters are mentioned again in chapter 7. He says, “ anyone who is thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me, drink.” (John 7:37–38, NRSV).
- On the Cross, Jesus cries, “I thirst” (John 19: 28, NRSV).
Interestingly one who offered the living water, and the one who turned the water into wine is thirsty during the passion. What are some of the explanations?
- The cry on the cross reveals the humanity of Jesus. Thirst is nothing, but extremely normal after such an ordeal in the passion. Water is given to people in their dying moments in many traditions.
- The cry of Jesus was to fulfill the scriptures, “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” (Psalms 69: 21, NIV).
- Jesus in the Gospel of John (chapters 4, 6, 7) was speaking not of physical thirst, but of a deeper thirst which can be filled by God alone. Living water at times is a sign of the Holy Spirit too.
I agree with these explanations, but I wish to think a little beyond these. When Jesus was thirsty, what was he given?
It is not water or any other drink that is tasty or pleasing, but vinegar.
All the convents of Mother Theresa do have these words, “I thirst” written on their chapels. They, like many other people of good-will, do offer water or something drinkable to the people who are thirsty.
This becomes much more relatable in the season of the pandemic when many good Samaritans do take efforts to quench the thirst of many.
We could also go a little further to see the difference between Jesus in chapter 4/6/7 and Jesus in chapter 19. The context of the initial chapters is the public ministry of Jesus and the context of the 19th chapter is the passion of Jesus. If we take one verse from the letters of St Paul seriously, it reveals something more.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5: 21, NIV).
One of the greatest differences comes in the aspect of sin. Jesus who was sinless in the public ministry received all the sins of humanity into himself.
(Just like a scapegoat, a term we can relate to very easily…. only difference being, Jesus took the sin on Himself by His own will). The moment of becoming sin was too much even for the son of God.
If we think of God and sin as opposites, there is even a momentary separation from the Father during those times. That gives a deeper meaning to that cry… it is a real cry for living water. It is a real cry to experience God. It is a real cry to overcome the structures of the sin (we see that happening in the resurrection).
- The cry is an invitation to give ‘real water’ to quench the thirst. (not substances like vinegar).
- The cry is also a search for the living water (for God).
- The cry and the later resurrection give a model … to fight to overcome the structures of sin and injustice, which is personal and communitarian.