Last Words 5: Obey Your Thirst, or God?

These are meditations on the Seven Last Words of Jesus for Holy Week. Those planning to do our Good Friday vigil should wait until Friday to read these. I wanted to share a couple each day for those who won’t be participating. 

What if Jesus’ dying words shaped how we live?

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. (John 19:28-29)

The genius of good marketing is subliminally tapping a primal human desire in seemingly innocuous ways. If we ever stop to think about the happy commercial jingle, sometimes we’re shocked at the audacity of the message.

One example is Sprite’s slogan: “Obey your thirst!” What terrible advice for a race so prone to thirsting after things that don’t satisfy and often bring harm. As a guilt-ridden soda-junkie, I know personally how dangerous it is to blindly obey my thirst. Instead, we need to curb our thirst, tame our thirst, or best of all, to transform our thirst from away from things that don’t quench and toward those things that truly satisfy.

Thirst is a common and powerful metaphor in Scripture. The Psalmist declares, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God” (Ps. 42:1). In Jeremiah 2, God calls Himself “the spring of living water” and laments how his people have forsaken Him by digging their own “broken cisterns” that cannot hold water.”  Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that her unquenchable thirst for love won’t be satisfied by one more romantic relationship, but she can find an overflowing spring welling up inside her if she’ll just drink the “living water” Jesus offers (John 4). 

Here’s the challenge: Nobody would voluntarily drink a cup of poison that would instantly kill them. Yet, many of us are daily making choices that are ever-so-slowly taking life away—and I am not just thinking about literal substances or dietary choices. I also mean the danger of thirsting for human approval, thirsting for wealth and success, searching for the fountain of youth by obsessing over one’s diet and health. And on and on. 

On the cross, Jesus was without sin and had lived his entire life obeying a “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt 5:6). He once told his hungry disciples with rumbling bellies, “I have food you know nothing about; my nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work” (John 4:34). Now, on the cross, the person who lived his entire life drinking from the Eternal Fountain of Living Water and whose cup should’ve “runneth over” (Ps. 23), is suffering the cumulative thirst of all our empty attempts to find satisfaction drinking from broken cisterns. The one who obeyed God died with thirst on his lips because we obeyed our thirst instead of God. 

Reflection: Jesus died to free us from unholy cravings and offers us “living water” that truly satisfies. Which appetites or thirsts might God want to transform in your heart? Is life in quarantine revealing or helping you cut yourself off from an unhealthy habit or craving?

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