Explore this thought with me for just a moment. Why did Jesus live on earth as long as He did? Couldn't his life have been much shorter and uncomplicated, abbreviated into necessity for God to simply accomplish what He had to? Why not step into our world just long enough to die for our sins and then leave? To take on our sins is one thing, to assume responsibility for their forgiveness is another, but to take on our sunburns, our sore throats too? To experience death, yes, but to put up with the daily problems of human life? To suffer personally and be reduced to negotiating long bumpy roads, dreary days and short tempers? Why did He do it?
For one reason alone: He wants us to trust him and what He can do for us.
Even his final act on earth was intended to win our trust. The gospel of St. John says, "After that, Jesus realizing that everything was now finished, said to fulfill the Scriptures, 'I am thirsty.' There was a jar there, full of common wine. They stuck a sponge soaked in this wine on some hyssop and raised it to his lips. When Jesus took the wine he said, 'It is finished.' Then he bowed his head and delivered over his spirit" John 19: 28 - 30.
This is the final act of Jesus' life. In the concluding measure of his earthly composition, we hear the sounds of a thirsty man. And through his thirst, through a sponge and jar of cheap wine, he leaves a final appeal. "Yes, you can trust me. I know you better than anyone else. I know your need in abject circumstances. Not only did I create you, but I suffered your needs as well."
Lips cracked, mouth of cotton. Throat so dry He couldn't swallow and voice so hoarse He could hardly speak. He is thirsty. To find the last time moisture touched his lips you need to rewind a dozen hours to the meal in the cenacle, in the upper room. Since tasting that cup of wine, and offering his body and blood as food and drink to the disciples, Jesus has been beaten, spat upon, bruised and cut up mercilessly. He has been a cross-carrier and a sin-bearer and no liquid has soothed or salved his throat. He is desperately thirsty.
Why doesn't He do something about it? Couldn't He provide for himself just as lavishly as He provided for us in creation? Did he not cause jugs of water to be jugs of wine in Cana? Did He not make a wall out of the Jordan River and two walls out of the Red Sea? Didn't He, with one simple word, banish the rain and calm the waves? Doesn't Scripture remind us that He "turned the desert into pools Psalms 107: 35 and "...the hard rock into springs" Psalms 114: 8?
Did our heavenly Father not say, "I will pour water on him who is thirsty" Isaiah 44: 3? If so, why then did Jesus endure thirst? While we ask this question, we can add a few more. Why did He grow weary in Samaria (John 4: 6), disturbed in Nazareth (Mark 6: 6), and angry in the Temple (John 2: 15)? Why was He sleepy in the boat on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4: 38), sad at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11: 35), and hungry in the wilderness (Matthew 4: 2)?
Why? And why did He grow thirsty on the cross?
He did not have to suffer thirst. At least not to the level He actually did. Six hours earlier He had been offered a drink, but He refused it. "They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha, which means the Place of the Skull. Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get Mark 15: 22 - 24.
Before the nail was pounded, a drink was offered. St. Mark comments the wine was mixed with myrrh. St. Matthew describes it as wine mixed with gall. Both myrrh and gall contain sedative properties that numb the senses. But Jesus refused them. He refused to be stupefied by the drugs, choosing instead to feel the full force of his suffering.
Why did Jesus endure all this suffering? Be He knows we endure them too in our daily living.
He knew we would be weary, disturbed, disappointed, and angry. He knew we would be sleepy, grief-stricken and hungry. He knew we would face pain. If not pain of the body, then pain of the soul ... pain too sharp for any drug to alleviate. He knew we would face thirst. If not a thirst for water, at least a thirst for truth and the truth we glean from the image of a thirsty Christ is that He definitely understands us as human beings and He loves us as human beings and He wants to save us made in his image because we cannot save ourselves.
And because He understands, it makes it easy for us to come to him.
Wouldn't his lack of understanding keep us away from him, keep us from coming to him? Doesn't the lack of understanding keep us from others? Suppose you are discouraged at your financial status. You need some guidance from a sympathetic friend. Would you go to the son of a billionaire? Remember you are asking for guidance, not a hand-out! Would you approach someone who inherited a fortune? Probably not. Why? He would not understand. He has likely never been where you are, so he cannot relate to how you feel!
Jesus Christ, however has and can. He has been where we are and can relate to how we feel. And if his life on earth does not convince us, his death on the cross should. He understands what we are going through. Our Lord does not patronize us or scoff at our needs. He responds generously to all without finding fault" James 1: 5. How can He do this? No one has explained it better than the author of the epistle to the Hebrews. "Jesus understands every weakness of ours, because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness and we will find help" Hebrews 4: 15, 16.
Why did the throat of heaven grow raw? So we would know that He understands; so all who struggle would hear his invitation: "You can trust me."
The word trust does not appear in the passage about the wine and sponge, but we do find a phrase that makes it easier to trust. Look at the sentence prior to the declaration of thirst: "So that the Scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said 'I am thirsty' John 19: 28. In that verse, the Evangelist gives a motive behind the words of the Lord. Our Lord is concerned with the fulfillment of Scripture. In fact the fulfillment of Scripture is a recurring theme in the passion narratives. Consider this listing:
The betrayal of Jesus by Jesus occurred "to bring about what the Scripture said" John 13: 18; 17: 12.
The gamble for the clothing took place "so that this Scripture would come true: 'They divided my clothes among them, and they threw lots for my clothing"' John 19: 24.
The legs of Christ were not broken "to make the Scripture come true: 'Not a bone of his will be broken"' John 19: 36.
The side of Jesus was pierced to fulfill the passage that says "They will look at the one they stabbed" John 19: 37.
John says the disciples were stunned by the empty tomb since "They did not yet understand the Scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead" John 20: 9.
Why the recurring references in Scripture? Why, in his final moments, was Jesus determined to fulfill prophecy? He knew we would doubt. He knew we would question. And since He did not want our heads to keep his love from our hearts, He used his final moment to offer proof that He is the Messiah. He systematically fulfilled centuries-old prophecies.
Every important detail of the profound tragedy of man against God had been recorded and written down before hand:
The betrayal by a familiar friend (Psalms 41: 9)
The forsaking of the disciples through being offended at him (Psalms 31:11)
The false accusation (Psalms 35: 11)
The silence before his judges (Isaiah 53: 7)
Being proven guiltless (Isaiah 53: 9)
Being crucified (Psalms 22:16)
The mockery of the spectators (Psalms 109: 25)
The taunt of nondeliverance (Psalms 22: 7, 8)
The gambling for his garments (Psalms 22: 18)
The prayer for his enemies (Isaiah 53: 12)
Being forsaken by God (Psalms 22: 1)
The yielding of his spirit into the hands of the Father (Psalms 31: 5)
The bones not broken (Psalms 34: 20)
The burial in a rich man's tomb (Isaiah 53: 9)
In the earthly life of our Lord some 332 distinct predictions or prophecies in the Old Testament were fulfilled. We cannot even begin to comprehend the mathematical possibilities of all these prophecies being fulfilled in the life of one man!
So why did Jesus proclaim his thirst on the cross? To lay just one more sturdy and immovable plank on a sturdy bridge over which a doubter could walk. His confession of thirst is a signal for all who seek it. He is the Messiah, He is the healer, He is the Saviour, He is the Lord God almighty!
It is the reason He sends St. Pantelemon and others like him into our world. It is the reason He established our blessed Church through which He blesses and affirms us; that is to heal, to guide, to soothe our hurts and anoint our wounds. His confession of thirst gives us a signal, a sure sign we can trust the Lord. We trust others like ourselves for understanding. Do we not need someone who is bigger than we are? Are we not weary of simply trusting the people of this earth for strength, wholeness and healing? A drowning sailor does not call on another drowning sailor for help. A prisoner does not beg another prisoner to set him free. A pauper knows better than to beg from another pauper. He knows he needs someone who is stronger than he is.
Jesus' message through the wine-soaked sponge is this "I am the person you can trust. Trust me" Trust me because I raise up holy people in your midst to affirm my love. Trust me because I send healers to work through for your benefit. Trust me because I thirst for the care of your soul and its salvation. Trust those I send among you to serve your needs: like St. Pantelemon the Miracle Worker.