18 Pentecost, Year A: I Thirst

18 Pentecost, October 1

Ex. 17:1-7 or Ezek. 18:1-4, 25-32
Ps. 78:1-4, 12-16 or Ps. 25:1-8
Phil. 2:1-13Matt. 21:23-32

“I Thirst” by Lawrence Lew, OP/Flickr

We see Jesus on the cross and find in his humility both a sacrifice and an example. We are called to give our lives in service to God and the world. In the words of St. Paul, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).

Of the many agonies Christ suffered, he mentions only one. “After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), ‘I am thirsty’” (John 19:28). Somehow, the older and terser translation gets closer to the depth and desperation of this anguish. “I thirst.” To fill his lungs with enough breath to say this was itself an agony, and yet he had to say it. “I thirst!” He had to let us know of the heat and cramping, the onset of seizures, the risk of hypovolemic shock (from blood loss), and a whole array of unspeakable pain signified by those two words, “I thirst!”

Perhaps, then, we can hear with a deeper sympathy the cry of the children of Israel. They complain against Moses and thereby complain against God, but they complain for what must strike us as a very good reason. “From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water to drink. The people quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’” (Ex. 17:1-3).

While it is true that God earlier provided for their need, their thirst at Rephidim made them doubtful and desperate. The gravity of this situation is well illustrated by the words that follow: “I thirst” in John’s gospel. Having said, “I thirst,” and having received a few drops of wine put to his mouth, he said, “It is finished.” The need for water is a matter of life and death.

Finally, God acts (Ex. 17:5-7): “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’”

Real hunger and wrenching thirst expose our need. We need food and water. Give us this day our daily bread; give us a cup of cool water. This need reminds us of a deeper need still. “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God” (Ps. 42:1). Jesus Christ is the rock and the water. Will we go to him? Sometimes we say “Yes” and then do not. Sometimes we say “No” and then do. Do the will of the Father by going to the Son. If you have refused, change your mind (Matt. 21:28-31).

Look It Up: Psalm 78:15-16

Think About It: Your body is 60 percent water.


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