A request too far?
In John’s account of the death of Jesus there is a moment when the frail humanity of Christ breaks the silence. He cries out: I am thirsty. It is the thirst of the dying. But when the drugged cloth is offered him he refuses. Was there another sort of thirst he need quenching?
This is another in a series for Before the ending of the day where I am considering each of the last words of Jesus as he died on the cross. I wonder what meaning they may have for our own contemplation of death and dying.
I have only been seriously ill once in my life so far.
I was rushed into hospital. One of my abiding memories was how quickly I felt reduced to a body which no longer felt like my own. It was full of pain. I felt uncomfortable in it. I only wanted to feel myself again but this was being denied me. I just seemed to be a mass of aching joints, thudding head and a pain in my midriff that was cutting me in half. The other cruel discovery was that any sense of God was beyond me. To pray was the last thing I felt capable of.
It was not until Roger Hayden my Area Superintendent abruptly turned up by my bedside and rather noisily asked me two questions that this changed:
How did I feel and had anyone prayed with me?
He then proceeded even more noisily to announce to the rest of the ward that he, dog-collar glowing in the dark was doing some business with God on behalf of the struggling wretch in the corner bed. I am sure he was more discreet than that but it didn’t feel like it at the time.
This is why I can go along with the obvious reason for Jesus asking for a drink; this was the thirst of a very sick person. But it is not enough of an explanation.
Although I found his public prayer for me somewhat over whelming; I at the same time felt immensely grateful.
Someone was treating me as more than a body attached to tubes.
Someone was offering me help, to do what I couldn’t do for myself.
Someone was trying to be my companion.
Someone was aiming to hook me up to God.
I believe this was the quenching that Jesus sought.
When the gospel writer suggests that this happened to fulfil scripture it is a strong hint that there was more going on than a cry for a dab of moisture on the lips. Some scholars want us to refer to Psalm22 or 38; you can draw your own conclusions.
But it is not enough just to do some scripture searching.
We need to go further and wonder what this tells us about the nature of dying. Unless our death is sudden or murderous a moment comes when we know that whatever medical science can promise and do, our life is about dying.
When that occurs priorities also go under the microscope or through the scanner. The question becomes: now what do I live for?
Thirsty for more than water Jesus cries out for the companionship of others and God; as he had by a well in Sychar a couple years before (John 4).
He wanted the reassurance that although he was as parched as a burning wilderness what had quenched this thirst in the past would do so in this extreme present.
I suppose what all this means is that our choice of priorities is important for we never know when we will only have them to rely on to help us be ourselves to the end.
A Footnote: Roger Haydon died during the time I have been writing this. After only a little thought I have decided to include my story of his robust pastoral care. He was a kind man.