Thursday, April 21, 2011

Day Five of Holy Week: The Last Words of Jesus

“I am thirsty.”

Thirst is a basic human response to the need for liquid. The human body has more water in it than any other kind of element. A person can go for a long period of time without eating, but lack of fluids can do some serious damage.

Thirst is also painful. It racks the body and creates incessant, rasping reminders in the mouth and tongue. It doesn’t come and go; it takes up residence.

That Jesus would thirst should come as no surprise. After losing blood in the process of crucifixion and then being exposed to the elements that day, thirst would be natural to him. But his thirst also should not surprise us because Jesus was a real person, suffering in a very real, human way. This man was no divine illusion pretending to die, as some involved with the first-century so-called “mystery religions” might have claimed. Jesus was real, and true. His suffering and death were authentically human, experienced in time and space.

As the Apostle John wrote to affirm this,

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. (I John 1:1-2)

We are told that Jesus was not offered water to satisfy his thirst, but rather “vinegar.” It was actually a cheap wine that the soldiers kept handy for themselves—after all, crucifying people was a taxing business. It is also added to the text that this cry of Jesus was, again, part of a scripture that needed to be fulfilled:

I looked for pity, but there was none;
 and for comforters, but I found none. 
They gave me poison for food,
 and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink. (Psalm 69:20b-21)

There is an interesting parallel here: The same Egypt that oppressed and enslaved the ancient Hebrew people later gave shelter to Jesus and his family when they were in need; now the same Romans who worked their dark machinery to end Jesus’ life are giving comfort to the one they are killing. That comfort doesn’t come from outside of the soldiers’ resource, but rather from the very jug of wine that they use to comfort themselves. The oppressors have become the comforters.

Jesus’ own people stood back and watched him die; mockery and grief were mixed in a paradoxical cocktail. Even the most devoted of Jesus’ followers lacked the ability to minister to his needs. The soldiers, however, attended to his thirst.

The complicity of the Jewish leaders with the Romans created a vehicle of death that was swift and sure. Enemies locked arms as they unleashed their power on Jesus. At the end, however, those who would have been considered to be far removed from the people of God brought the only attempt at comfort to the dying Messiah. It be a Centurion who would make the declaration,

“Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Matthew 27:54b)

There is something the outsider sees that the insider misses. I have heard several high-profile atheists state that, while they think religion in general is bunk and Christians in particular are fools, Jesus is at the very least, admirable. They sometimes puzzle at the lack of seriousness with which Christians take their own Savior.

Maybe there is something for us to learn from those who watch from afar.

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