I am a middle-class American, accustomed to many consumer privileges that I easily take for granted. Whereas millions throughout the world have little to no access to clean drinking water, all I have to do is turn on the tap. If that’s not enough, I can walk or drive to the nearest supermarket and choose from a dizzying array of different types and flavors of bottled water. And if that’s not enough, I can go a little further up the street and wander the aisles of a warehouse-sized store that sells only beverages.
Unless I somehow get stuck out in the middle of the desert, I will never die of thirst. No, my only problem — one that comes with privilege — is deciding what I want to drink.
So it’s a little hard for me to identify with the physical reality of what John says of Jesus on the cross:
[K]nowing that everything was already completed, in order to fulfill the scripture, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was nearby, so the soldiers soaked a sponge in it, placed it on a hyssop branch, and held it up to his lips. When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed.” Bowing his head, he gave up his life. (John 19:28-30, CEB)
Unlike Matthew (27:34), John doesn’t mention that Jesus had been offered wine earlier and refused it; tasting it, he knew the wine was drugged with something that would dull his senses. He would not shy away from any of the suffering that was part of the mission his Father had given him.
But when he knew the job was done, he declared his thirst. Some cheap wine was on hand, possibly for the soldiers’ benefit, possibly for use with the condemned (the latter would explain why a sponge was so readily available). A wine-soaked sponge was lifted to Jesus’ lips on a short hyssop branch so he could suck from it.
And as soon as he had taken that drink, Jesus spoke: It is finished; I’ve completed what I came to do. The word John uses suggests a debt paid in full; with that, Jesus bowed his head and died.
The other gospels tell us that Jesus uttered a loud cry before he died — but don’t tell us what he said. It’s possible that John fills in the blank: Jesus didn’t just heave a sigh of relief and whisper, “Finally. That’s over with.” Rather, he cried aloud, “It is finished!” for any with ears to hear. It was a final declaration of the truth of who he was. Not a victim of the Roman Empire, nor of the chief priests. Not a failed revolutionary with delusions of grandeur. He was the one sent by the Father to do something only he could do.
And before he could utter that final cry, the man Jesus had to relieve his parched lips and throat. Even attending to his own physical need was for the sake of mission.
What does all that say to middle-class me, who lives down the street from Bev-Mo (really) and can have anything to drink that I want?
We’ll explore that in the next post.