Posted by: Fr Chris | March 29, 2010

Seven Last Words #5

After this Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said

(to fulfil the scripture), “I thirst.”

Tonight we have the fifth word. I thirst. In all convents of Mother Teresa’s missionaries of Charity, there is a life-sized crucifix in the chapel next to the chapel with these two words painted on the wall under Jesus’ right arm. I thirst.

John tells us that the soldiers stick a long branch of hyssop into a jug of sour wine, or the word vinegar, and so we often interpret that as a bad joke from these rough men – the prisoner thirsts, let’s give him vinegar. Actually this was basically the Roman soldiers’ Gatorade when serving in a hot climate like Jerusalem, and they put it up to His broken lips. It is perhaps an act of mercy on the part of those who really didn’t understand everything that was going on in terms of the words Jesus has already said, but who are most definitely aware of the drama and are being caught up in it more and more. Or it is an intervention by someone hoping to revive Jesus with this vinegary wine, to drag out Jesus life a bit longer so as to see if God was going to intervene or the Prophet Elijah was going to appear.

Even the most ignorant soldier on duty that day knew these things:

–         The priests have come out to a public execution site on the biggest Jewish holy day to watch this man suffer and die, and they have mocked him and cursed him;

–         there is a large crowd that is simply watching – no words from those people at all are recorded, but probably a steady stream of crying and sad sounds;

–         darkness, wind, sand, the sun blocked out over the holy city;

–         no matter their religion they probably are frightened and worried – will they be caught in a massacre, is there going to be rioting, why this crowd that all the evangelists say just watches, why are the priests and elders coming out when even the Roman soldiers know that Jewish purity laws should be keeping them in the temple on Passover;

these occasional cries, and the one of last week, that Fr Jay preached on in my absence, was My God My God why hast thou forsaken me, and the gospels say that Jesus screamed that one out. Prisoners on crosses screamed all the time, but not a scream in Aramaic to the Jewish God, quoting a prayer that suddenly got that big crowd moving around because the people were trying to interpret the words to one another. No matter how tough these soldiers are, they are all getting affected by this tragedy and the obvious religious elements that are present, as we know from the conversion of their leader which will happen when Jesus dies.

And so J says I thirst, and they respond with the hyssop branch, unconsciously recognizing Jesus as the Paschal Lamb. Hyssop: a hyssop branch was used in Exodus to sprinkle the blood of the first Passover lambs on the doorways of the Israelites to shield them from the avenging angel of death, it was used in the temple by the priests for sprinkling of water, and it is symbolically used still today in Roman Catholic parishes with the large aspergillum which the priest puts into holy water and blesses the people with at the beginning of Mass. You see, no detail is too small in the Passion narrative, or in any of the gospels. The soldiers didn’t use any kind of stick, or even a spear. They use a branch from the plant that is filled with such symbolism to assuage the thirst of this, the eternal Passover Lamb Who saves us from the death of sin and opens the doors of paradise to the thief, to the souls trapped in Sheol, and to the souls of those who believe in Him and do His will.

When Terri Schiavo was killed by her husband and the complicit judges in Florida at the same time that our venerable pope John Paul II was dying just five years ago this month, she died of thirst. Remember the children who tried to take water to the door of the nursing home where she was dying? Because everyone in America, everyone with a radio anywhere on the planet heard this story of how her husband refused to let her have even the little sponge that is put on the lips of the dying, here in this wealthy land of so many freedoms. And people around the world said, what is wrong with those Americans? What indeed. The soldiers who nailed Jesus to this cross, who had no compunction about doing their bloody duty, have compassion on him.

Ever been truly thirsty? We live in a desert, and it is easy to forget that in the city because we have trees and gardens and flowers and so on, but already in the afternoons it can be pretty hot out and if we don’t keep water with us, we can get thirsty. Now consider what it is like here in March and April when we get those high winds that blow all afternoon, and to be naked, with no covering, so that that same wind is drying out our skin and taking away every drop of moisture.

I thirst.

He most certainly was thirsty. This is why the flow of the blood and water is seen as a miracle as we will hear next Friday night. He could not have had much water left inside him at this point. In psalm 22 that he had begun to quote, it says, “My throat is as dry as a pot shard and My tongue sticks to My jaws.”

And he also says this word to fulfill Scripture: Ps 69:22 “and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

He remains faithful to the will of the Father. Even what the prophets wrote about me are fulfilled as I fulfill my life to the Father.

His anguished suffering is a mission, remember, a mission to save human souls and to restore the balance of broken creation. He came to fulfill the will of the Father, the Father whose will you and I promise to fulfill every single time we recite Jesus’ prayer, Our Father. We are invited to be obedient children, obedient brothers and sisters, thankful souls rescued from the horrors of a life ruled by Satan. He is tormented by thirst – my tongue sticks to my jaws  – but he is going to give us living water soon. He said in life to his followers walking those dusty desert roads in the hot sun, in the courtyard of the Temple in John 7:37-38 “If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink.  He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, “out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water”.

Let us listen to the words of two other Terris, Teresa of Lisieux, and Teresa of Calcutta:

: “He has so much need of love and He is so thirsty, that He expects from us the drop of water that must refresh Him! Ah! Let us give without counting the cost.”

As long as you do not know in a very intimate way that Jesus is thirsty for you, it will be impossible for you to know who He wants to be for you, nor who He wants you to be for Him.

St Therese was loved and is loved for her Little Way – the smallest things can be moments of absolute love for God. Consider though her words: He has so much need of love” – really! God needs my love! Why? Because He is Absolute Love, He is indeed thirsty, thirsting for love. God does not thirst for animal sacrifices; He tells the people in Isaiah 1 that He wants converted hearts, and that is the first reading for Lent in the Byzantine rite at the Sixth Hour. God needs our love –He who made me, wants me to love Him. Let us give to Him without counting the cost – oh let us do so!

Mother Teresa writes that we must end God’s thirst. She was asked when did you first feel Jesus’ thirst? She said, “My First Communion.”

The Sister asked, “But as an experience?”

And Mother Teresa answered, “It is reality – not just an experience that is felt, but reality.”

He thirsts for souls – first our own individual and then those which we will lead to Him. He thirsts, and He ends all thirst. Water will come suddenly upon those who see Jesus naked, wounded, dried out, bloody, worn and ragged, it will come to us next Friday night from a source unbelievable. Tonight walking these stations, tonight going to bed, tomorrow getting up, and every day thereafter, Jesus has a thirst that is for me, and for the world. It is in our ability, thru the waters of baptism, to bring souls to him and end his thirst. But we must feel it as Mother Teresa says, we must feel it as a reality that will drive us forward to Him and inward into His all-loving and  all-forgiving Heart.

Let us give back to Him without counting the cost.


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