During Good Friday, many churches around the world have programs that commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus by featuring ministers who speak on His seven last words before He died on the cross. For my church’s Good Friday observance, I am speaking on the fifth utterance of Christ, “I thirst,” which is recorded in John 19:28. By this time, the scene at Golgotha was horrifically bloody as Jesus had been suffering from the torture of His crucifixion for nearly six hours. The Roman soldiers had divided His cloak amongst themselves and “cast lots” for His tunic, a fitted inner garment. The pain that Jesus was in physically as a man was beyond excruciating, and the mental anguish was just as great, as He commanded the disciple “whom He loved” to care for His mother, Mary. When Jesus says, “I thirst,” He is speaking from His fleshly suffering of dehydration. The Gospel of John documents that a sponge filled with vinegar was given to Jesus, which biblical scholars have determined was wine vinegar, a common drink among the poor.
For my focus on this verse, I am delving a little deeper into the spiritual symbolism of thirst as a craving for God to direct our lives with His divine plan and purpose. We can all relate to our natural thirst cravings, whether it is getting enough daily intake of water or obtaining a material object that we fancy. When I wrote on this text two years ago for Easter, I used Matthew 5:6 as a reference scripture where Jesus states in His Sermon on the Mount that “[b]lessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” The Greek translation for “thirst” is the same here as in John 19:28, which means to yearn for something metaphorically or literally. I pointed out that Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross “ended our spiritual deficiency,” as He was the propitiation for our sins that reconciled us to God.
So, in revisiting John 19:28 this year, I am concentrating on how many people are still experiencing lack in their lives by thirsting or craving after their desires, which are not all bad, yet they remain discontented. An example of this displeasure was shown in a 2016 survey that Forbes writer Kathy Caprino conducted among her subscribers. A sample size of 771 readers, mostly successful professionals, responded to this question: “If you could say in one word what you want more of in life, what would that be?” It was not surprising that happiness came in at number one, followed by money, freedom, peace, joy, balance, fulfillment, and confidence.
Looking at these answers, we all aspire to have these things, and Scripture instructs us to seek God first for them and not to carve out our own path. For instance, God promises to give us peace when we submit “every thing” to Him by “prayer and supplication with thanksgiving,” as the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6. Notice that “every thing” is separated into two words, meaning all matters of life. Paul goes on to proclaim that the “peace of God” passes all understanding and will keep our “hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” This peace allows us to rest in God’s care and provision, which brings on the happiness, freedom, joy, balance, fulfillment, and confidence that Caprino’s respondents were desperately seeking.
Regarding money, something most of us have been anxious about, I take solace in what Jesus taught in Matthew 6:27-33. He told us not to “take thought” or worry about the things we need that require money, such as food and clothing. He then commands us to “seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness,” the same righteousness He referred to people thirsting after, and promises that all these “things,” the matters of life, will be added to us.
This Easter, reflect on what you are thirsting or craving. Has your thirst been quenched or are you still parched with frustration as you struggle to acquire your desires on your own? I encourage you to seek God for the spiritual fulfillment you truly need and know that the cross of Christ was not just for our salvation, but also for us to be abundantly satisfied with life through Him.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. @JjSmojc