According to the Christian Church’s traditional commemoration of the Seven Last Words of Jesus on the Cross, the fifth saying was, “I am thirsty.” The story was taken from the Gospel of St. John, chapter 19, and verses 28-29:
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.
The story-teller identified Jesus’ words “I am thirsty” with the person expressing his suffering before God in Psalm 69. The commentary was directly connected with the 21st verse of this psalm: “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” This is a cry of a person experiencing utmost injustice and oppression. From the perspective of the psalmist, all systems were seen as oppressive and unjust. He saw God as the only One who understands the suffering of the oppressed.
When Jesus said, “I am thirsty,” he identified with the oppressed people. Only the oppressed people can understand, in a real and existential way, the cry of the oppressed. The Jesus who suffered the Roman cross genuinely understood what it meant to be oppressed.
In my digital concordance, there were 57 entries of the term “thirst”/”thirsty” in the Bible. Majority of the usages have its literal meaning. People really need water — that chemical substance with chemical formula H2O — to drink. In a geographical context like Palestine, access to water is basic to a people’s survival. Access to water is a life-and-death issue that can determine war and peace in the dynamics of the relationships between individuals, families, clans, tribes, and nations.
It is not surprising that 6 of the 57 usages of “thirst”/”thirsty” have spiritual meaning because common folks would understand abstract ideas through basic stuff like ‘water’. Let’s look at each of them:
Psalm 42:2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
Psalm 63:1 You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you.
John 6:35 I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
John 7:37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.”
Revelation 21:6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.”
Revelation 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.
It would be easy for me to read all these and say, “Well, that was Jesus. That was his thing. He was a great guy.”
Except that, I claim to follow him as my Master. My Master told me a story to help me understand how he would evaluate my actions as his follower:
THE SHEEPS AND THE GOATS
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
(Matthew 25: 31-46 NIV)
So, what does this mean for me today?
Today, Jesus’ sisters and brothers need clean drinking water. More than 1 billion people lack adequate access to clean drinking water; 400 million of these are children. Jesus identifies with these oppressed people. Jesus is thirsty today!
Today, Jesus is also inviting the spiritually thirsty to Himself as The Living Water. People who have been alienated from God, from their being, from others, and from the creation are thirsty for wholeness, for life-harmony, for peace or shalom. The Living Water brings harmony with God, harmony with our being, harmony with others, and harmony with the creation. The Living Water quenches our thirst for spiritual transformation, for psycho-social transformation, for socio-political transformation, and for economic-ecological transformation.
As a follower of Jesus, I must act accordingly:
First, I must identify with thirsty people who are oppressed by the systems of this world. I must start with providing cold water to those who are literally thirsty.
But I must not stop there. I must also ask why are the thirsty ones not having free access to water sources? What are the systemic structures that hinder the people’s free access to water sources? How can I help change those unjust systems? What are the transformational values that would make the people aware, get the people educated, get the people organized, and get the people mobilized to change the systems that affect their lives in accordance with what is just and peaceful?
Second, I must be a witness to Jesus’ life and work as The Living Water. I must always be conscious that the spiritual thirst and the physical thirst of the people are integrated in a holistic view of the human need. My life and work must always be a channel of The Living Water to the people around me.