The Church has always understood that Sacred Scripture, being inspired by God, has layers and depth in meaning. Looking at one aspect often won’t fully capture everything that is going on or everything God intends to communicate. And God’s Word is living and active, His mercies are new every morning, so what He intends for me to know today as I encounter His Word can be fresh and personal depending on the different circumstances of that particular day.
Very early in the Church’s beginnings, a method for penetrating the depths of God’s Word proved to be fruitful, so I offer this reflection following the same method which peels away four layers to Sacred Scripture.
The first layer looks at the literal meaning of the words: “I thirst.” Here we think about what is physically happening to Jesus, what He experenced in His humanity. What happened to this person, a very real person who existed in history?
There are two lines from different scenes we encounter in Lent that have always struck me as the most obvious comments. The first comes from the Temptation in the Desert which basically says “Jesus fasted for 40 days and afterwards he was hungry.” No kidding! You should see me when a meal is delayed 40 minutes. And the second is this line from the Crucifixion, “I thirst.”
For some people, just taking time to quietly imagine what Jesus physically endured can be very fruitful prayer.
So we can take time to reflect on some of the sufferings that would have contributed to His thirst prior to this expression of His need for drink – the lack of sleep, the overwhelming loss of blood, the heat of the midday sun, breathing in dust, the burning gasps for air.
The second layer looks at how Jesus was fulfilling an aspect of the Old Covenant through His words and actions. There is a theory that connects this line “I thirst” directly with the Eucharist.
We know that the night before His crucifixion, Jesus shared a Passover meal with the Apostles. As the Passover meal unfolds there are four different cups of wine offered and shared. Before drinking the fourth cup, which is the highest point of the meal, there are 5 five psalms that are sung. Interestingly it seems that Jesus, as He was presiding at this Passover, did not offer the last cup.
Toward the end of the Last Supper He tell the Apostles “Truly, I say to you, I shall not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God” (Mark 14:25). So He explains that He won’t be drinking the last cup to complete the Passover and then it says they went singing psalms into the night.
Fast-forward to the carrying His Cross – remember how Jesus is offered wine and rejects it? His mission was not yet complete so He did not drink. Now at the very end, at the culmination of His life and mission, the Passover meal He began the night before, which became our Eucharist, Jesus completes as He states “I thirst.”
In the third layer we consider our response to these great mysteries presented to us in Scripture. Maybe after considering the great physical sufferings of Our Lord, we are renewed in our commitment to penance and sacrifice. Maybe there is a comfort or attachment we have been holding on to, but we are now inspired to let go, knowing nothing on earth is worth preferring to the love of Our Lord.
Or maybe we see how in the very last moment of His life, Jesus taught us the non-negotiable connection between liturgy and life, ritual and real love.
We may renewed in our commitment to His sacramental presence in the Eucharist and resolved to extend our participation in the Eucharist into a more sacrificial life.
The fourth layer, a little like the fourth cup of the Passover, is the culmination. It’s the highest point of our prayerful reading of Scripture because it shows us how God’s plan revealed in Scripture will ultimately be fulfilled in heaven.
The Greek word for “I thirst”, “dipso”, can also mean “to ardently desire.”
We know from St. Augustine and Aristotle, just about every song on the radio, and the sometimes emptiness of our own experiences that we are, in the words of Fr. Thomas Dubay, “incarnate thirsts.” We greatly desire happiness; and we will rest in this happiness in heaven.
But for now, while our feet are planted here on earth, we are quenched for a time as we encounter him in prayer. “The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human begin. It is he who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him” (CCC 2560).
God thirsts that we may thirst for him. This Good Friday may we hear anew these words spoken by Jesus from the Cross – “I thirst.”