Drought of love

The fifth set of Jesus’ last words are two brief ones, comprising seven letters in total. Yet they may be the most poignant spoken on the cross. They drip with a powerful meaning that one could spend a lifetime pondering.

After this, aware that everything was now finished, Jesus said, “I thirst.”

John 19:28

If one reads this through a purely logical and human perspective, it makes sense for Jesus to speak these words after all the hardship He has endured. He has probably been thirsty for quite some time. And from a human point of view, it can be a cry for compassion and mercy, tugging on our heartstrings at the most basic of levels. After all, haven’t we all experienced what it’s like to be thirsty?

But these words, captured by the evangelist, are not meant to be read solely in a secular way. The spiritual meaning of these words is much more significant. To understand them, however, requires a bit of knowledge of the Passover meal itself. 

Ironically the Gospel of John does not include the institution of the Eurcharist as told by the other three Gospels. Each of them contain some sort of direct phrasing as Jesus passes the cup, He says, “Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” (Mk 14:25) Dr. Scott Hahn, a Catholic theologian, explains that there are four “cups” in the Passover meal. The third one is the one used for the Eurcharist. It is the fourth cup, as indicated in the synoptic Gospels, that Jesus does not “partake of” during the actual meal. 

A Google search on this topic reveals many options that are similar in nature. However, I found one particular document from a Catholic parish in Maryland explaining the four cups used in the Passover Meal in light of the Last Supper recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke. The four cups are:

  • Sanctification
  • Judgment or Deliverance
  • Redemption
  • Praise or Consummation

These four cups are based on the promises that God made to Moses to bring the people out of Egypt, save them from slavery, and take them to be His own people. The third cup, the one used for the Eurcharist, would be that of Redemption, leaving that fourth cup — the one not consumed by Jesus — to be the cup of Praise or Consummation.  It represents God’s promise to “…take you as my own people, and you shall have me as your God.” (Ex 6:7)

So what do these cups have to do with these last words? It is here that Jesus is indicating His thirst, not just for physical drink, but the spiritual wine that is the fourth cup, consummating God’s promise. Jesus is at the point where He will go the farthest that a human can go from God, into death. Yet even death itself cannot be beyond God’s grasp. From the events of the Last Supper through to the resurrection, Jesus repairs the breach that the first sin, and all those subsequent, causes. Jesus thirsts, and He drinks. 

This thirst, however, has not been quenched. On Sept. 10, 1946, while riding on a train to Darjeeling, Mother Teresa felt Christ’s words from the Cross – “I thirst” – impressed upon her heart. This was her “call within a call” as she described it, and the impetus to serve the poorest of the poor in India. These words were so instrumental, they are painted on walls of every chapel of her Missionary Sisters of Charity. Mother Teresa was not the only modern saint to hear this calling. In March of 1937 (Holy Week), St. Faustina had a vision of the crucified Lord and heard the same words of Jesus, “I thirst,” and noted His words in her diary (Diary 1032).

These simple words of Jesus, almost His last ones, may have been a struggle to communicate but reverberate for us today. Do we hear Jesus calling our name, thirsting for a relationship with us? Thirsting to be loved by us? As we prepare for Holy Week, let us also prepare to respond to Jesus’ thirst for us.

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