T HIS SIMPLE REQUEST of Jesus pulls many into theological arabesques. What is Jesus thristing for? For our faith! For our love! For souls to heal and bring to heaven! None of that is in the text, of course: they arise from meditation on the text as does this essay. Jesus, having hung on the cross for three hours, having been tortured and up all night gave voice to a simple need. It’s not far-fetched to imagine he’s slightly delirious. What is a bit of a surprise is that someone responded to his request. I know it’s a prophetic sign, but you’d be hard-pressed to prove that it’s a sign of anything important.
It’s a root complaint in our world. You can fast for a long while, but you need to drink often. It’s so ingrained that drinking a lot of water can help you fast from food! “You’re not really hungry,” you say to yourself. “Have some water.” Good tap water goes a long way, but something sour (like vinegar and gall) makes it taste much nicer, and makes it all that much more satisfying. There needn’t be anything mystical going on here. The Early Christians recorded this because it happened. Jesus actually said these lines. God said this while dying.
“I thirst,” said God as he was dying.
Having simple, human needs is one thing that God does. Dying is something that God does.
Have you seen how beautiful this world is? I mean really? Yes, there is beauty in a shot of San Francisco Bay from the side of Russian Hill, especially at dawn. But there is beauty in a decayed leaf, or a collapsing squash. Stars collapsing, maggots on corpses, and even ancient skeletons (and by extension, our own) all have their own beauty. A stary night, a rainy afternoon, a Haboob, or a tornado all reveal an intense beauty that – once experienced – leaves us wanting more.
Who among the readers of these pages have one delicacy that they imagine that they would love to eat forever? Fried fish, chocolate mousse, avocado toast, lattes, caviar, fritos with cheese sauce, biscuits and gravy, or caramel corn?
In moments of deepest intimacy or near-spiritual elation, who does not wish to remain there?
Each beauty of our world, each joy, each taste, even each pain, calls from us a visceral response. We are called up and out of ourselves and yet – at that same moment – we are nailed deeply in our souls, rooted in ourselves. We are one with all things and yet isolated, alone, me. There is a moment there where I thirst becomes our own cry. We thirst for more of whatever it is and we are sorry when it has passed without slaking our thirst, our need.
These moments – even the ones that hurt – pull us towards the possibility that there is something more, something that we are craving constantly – even though we cannot name it. We can get caught in a constant round of trying to satisfy our thirst here, in this world. Every dawn over the Bay is beautiful and I have been fully blessed to see dawn here for 25 years. Dawn has happened for millenia continuously on this revolving world. But we want it again.
We thirst for more.
Jesus is that more. All of it poured out filling hearts. Jesus is the more for which we thirst. The greatest beauty, the highest joy, the deepest love is only a sip, a drop of moisture, a hint of the fullness that is Jesus.
And in eternity we may find the slaking of that thirst.