The Gospel of John records the two shortest words from Jesus on the cross and they are linked around the determination to do the will of God until the very end.
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- Episode 6: I Thirst and It Is Accomplished - Transcript
Episode 6: I Thirst and It Is Accomplished - TranscriptAuthor: Archdiocese of Brisbane
In the earlier podcast, we have looked at the first four words of the seven last words of Jesus on Calvary. And we turn now to the fifth of those words, which is really a pair with the sixth. So, the fifth of the seven words is from John’s gospel. And it’s the most, it’s the briefest of them all. Where Jesus simply says from the cross in the darkness, ‘I thirst’. And then in the sixth word, as we shall see, Jesus says in the darkness from the cross, ‘It is accomplished’. As he comes to the moment of death.
So, these two, the fifth and the sixth, seem to me to be a kind of a pair, as we shall see. And they’re really a pair in the sense that they are both speaking about doing God’s will completely. And this was the great struggle of Gethsemane for Jesus. And why he, as we’re told, sweated blood. To come to that sense that the death that was looming was in fact the will of God. Not a malicious God. But this was an act of infinite love, in fact, not just for Jesus, but for the entire cosmos.
And these two words, in fact, the fifth and the sixth, it’s hard to know to whom they’re addressed. But in fact, they both imply a relationship, if I’m right in suggesting. That they are both about doing the strange and magnificent will of God completely. To the very end. Here again we have this theme of Jesus as the new Adam. Whereas the old Adam in the garden was disobedient. The new Adam on Calvary is the one who is radically obedient. And it’s only that radical obedience that constitutes him as the new Adam.
So, to whom does Jesus speak? Well, it’s hard to know, ‘I thirst’. Now, I suppose you could, as some do, translate this as ‘I am thirsty’. As if he’s asking those who are guarding him for a drink. But that, I think, reduces the resonance of what’s going on here. Because the better translation, I think, is ‘I thirst’ because it suggests more of that cosmic resonance. That the thirst rather is certainly more than physical.
So, that when we translate it as ‘I am thirsty’, it’s implying that this is merely a physical thirst. But it seems to me that here, given the context, it’s something more than physical. I mean, obviously the agony of thirst was part of the experience of crucifixion. But it’s not just a physical thirst of which we’re talking.
Now, if you look at John’s gospel. You see that hunger and thirst become symbols of Jesus’s desire, as I’ve suggested, to do the will of the Father completely. So that, for instance, in John Chapter 4, Jesus says, my food is to do the will of the Father. And then in John Chapter 18. Am I not to drink the cup? In other words, am I not to do the will of the Father. And earlier on in John Chapter 13. We find Jesus saying, I have drunk the cup to the end. So that sense of drinking the cup and eating the food. Is all about doing the will of the Father.
And then in Gethsemane. Let this cup pass from me, Jesus says. As he faces the dreadful prospect of crucifixion. But again, the cup refers to the death as the will of the Father. And in the fourth Eucharistic prayer, too, we use the words, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Eis telos, that sense of he loved to the end, he obeyed to the end. And that’s what’s going on here with ‘I Thirst’. Again, the Psalms are heard in these words, at least in echo. Psalm 69. I am weary with my crying; my throat is parched. Psalm 63. My soul thirsts for you like a dry, weary land without water. So, this whole theme of thirsting for God. And not just thirsting for God in some general vague sense but thirsting to do the will of God.
The Book of Exodus again picks up the theme of thirst. Chapter 17, Verse 3. Why did you bring us out of Egypt to die of thirst? So, thirst and the desert are obviously closely associated. And in that sense, when Jesus says on Calvary, ‘I thirst’. Calvary itself, the mountain becomes the desert of the exodus. The land of death. The desert as distinct from the garden from which we have exiled ourselves. The land of death. But the desert is a strange place. Because the desert that seemed empty, seems to be the land of death. In fact, teems with life. And similarly, the desert of the Exodus, and now the desert of Calvary teems with a life that needs to be seen with the right kind of eye. I remember years ago spending, about ten days in the Negev Desert south of Jerusalem. With one of the great experts on that part of the world. And she was our guide through the wilderness. And if you listen to her and followed her suggestions, what you began to see through those days was that this land that seemed empty, in fact teemed with life. The desert is not an empty place. And the land of death can in fact, be seen and experienced as a land of life.
So, too the desert of the Exodus, and even more the desert of Calvary. In which Jesus experiences a thirst. But in experiencing that thirst, Jesus enters into the depths of human thirst. Understood in all its power and scope. In other words, what are we talking about when we talk about the thirst of the human being? We’re talking about our need and our desire.
Religion can be understood in many ways. And there are those who would see it as a control or prohibition, even of desire, of human desire. One thinks of William Blake’s poem. Where he speaks of Priests in black gowns, were doing their rounds, and binding with briars, my joys and desires. That’s one understanding and experience of religion. It can be that. But that’s not the religion of Jesus Christ. It’s not true religion in that sense. True religion is about the education of desire. Not its prohibition or suppression. And by education, I mean leading human desire towards the point of its true fulfilment. In other words, we’ve got this fatal tendency to look for the right thing in the wrong place. And we find the exact opposite. The Bible talks about this constantly. It’s a bit like someone who is alcoholic, who looks to the bottle for peace or freedom. But in turning to the bottle finds the exact opposite to peace and freedom. And any form of addiction. Is that kind of looking for the right thing in the wrong place.
So, the task of religion, true religion, according to the scripture. Is to find, to lead human desire to where it can find its fulfilment. In other words, in terms of our thirst leading human beings to a point where their deepest thirst may in fact be slaked. And not lead us to as it were, die of thirst. In other words, find our way to the living waters.
Now Jesus says. He’s thirsty and they give him vinegar. And here again, we find echoes of the Psalm. Psalm 69. For my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink. Now, in fact, what they were offering him, and this would have been the soldiers whose task it was to supervise the execution. What they were offering wasn’t vinegar in the sense that we understand it. But it was a cheap drink called posca. And it was a kind of mixture of vinegar and water and other spices. That was often enough used by people like the military. And basically, by people who couldn’t afford wine. So, here they are offering Jesus, the old wine, posca, of the old order.
And this is in contrast to the new wine of the kingdom of which Jesus has spoken at the Last Supper. He will not drink wine again until he drinks the new wine in the Feast of the Kingdom. And eventually his blood, we say, in the celebration of the Eucharist. His blood becomes for us the new wine. Not the old wine, the posca, of the old order, the drink of death. But his blood shed in the moment of death. Becomes the new wine of the kingdom of which he has spoken at the Last Supper. So again, life and death interweave in the most extraordinary way. What looks to be death is life. What looks to be life can be death.
With Jesus speaking of thirst. Again, in the context of John’s gospel. One thinks inevitably of what we found in John Chapter 4. And there we have the extraordinary figure of the Samaritan woman, who’s never given a name. Jesus meets her at the well. They come to the well to drink. In other words, to slake their thirst. But again, Jesus, he may be physically thirsty, I presume he was. But as the story unfolds, the deeper thirst we see in Jesus is a thirst for her response. Which eventually comes. Jesus thirsts for her response.
Now this again touches upon the theme of the thirst of Christ, which continues to the end of the world. In other words, until everyone comes home to paradise. He thirsts for us. Because again, the story of the Samaritan woman isn’t just about her, it is about her. But it’s also that us. Her thirst is ours. And Christ’s thirst for her response is also his thirst for our response. And his thirst continues until everyone responds and then comes home to paradise.
The medieval English mystic, Julian of Norwich. Said that the longing and the ghostly thirst of Christ lasted and shall last till doomsday, till the very end. When she speaks of the ghostly thirst, what she means, of course, is the spiritual thirst. So that, this is where again, the words ‘I thirst’ on Calvary are not just about a physical thirst. They have a much deeper and wider resonance than that. And we’re seeing it here. The Samaritan woman thirsts, in fact, for the living water that Jesus promises. She comes as she does every day, I imagine, with her bucket to the well to get water. But when Jesus speaks of living water, she says, well, give me that water and I will never have to come to this well again. But that’s not the kind of water that he’s promising.
But Jesus is the one, the thirsty one is also the source of the living water. He in this desert moment of ‘I thirst’, becomes the fount of living water. And again, the wound from the side of the dying and dead Christ. The wound becomes the fountain. The blood and water that flows from his side becomes a fountain that turns death to life. And from which we drink with all our thirst until doomsday, as Julian of Norwich has said.
So ‘I thirst’. I thirst to do the will of the Father completely. I thirst for your response. And if you respond, then I who thirst will become the one who slakes your own thirst until eternity. Waters, living waters will spring from Christ, and there will be no more thirst. When we come home to paradise.
We turn then to the second of this pair, the sixth word. ‘It is accomplished’. Now, again, the same thing might be said of this as was said of ‘I thirst’. Who is Jesus addressing? It’s very difficult to know. It seems again, to have this kind of cosmic resonance. To be spoken out into the cosmos. But in fact, it seems to look to God, at least implicitly. See, what is accomplished? It doesn’t just mean I’m dying. That what is accomplished is the will and even the plan of God.
See, again, scripture is very clear on the point that God has a plan. It’s not always obvious. And it unfolds within the chaos of human affairs and the collapse of human plans. Which we think means the collapse of God’s plans. If our plans collapsed, then God’s must too. But no, no, according to scripture, that in the midst of the collapse of human plans, God’s plan continues on its majestic way. It continues to unfold. It is not dependent upon the success of human plans.
So, ‘It is accomplished’. I mean, it is the end. But there’s more to it than that. That in this moment where he comes to death. Jesus is accomplishing the plan of God. And this whole dynamic of promise or prophecy and fulfilment undergirds the whole of scripture. And it relates to God’s plan.
So, is perfect obedience possible? The answer is yes. When we look to Jesus on the cross. Is perfect love possible? And the answer is yes. A love that is accomplished. In that sense, it comes to its fullness, it is perfect. That’s what’s being uttered here. That kind of perfect love isn’t a mirage, it often seems to be.
So, in other words, what we’re dealing with in the sixth word is not just a last gasp, it’s all over. But a kind of a proclamation. And in the most unlikely moment and in the most unlikely place. A proclamation from the dying Jesus.
In John Chapter 17. Jesus says, I glorified you on Earth by accomplishing. There’s that same word. Accomplishing the work that you gave me to do. Now, according to those words of Jesus. Accomplishment equals glory. I glorified you on earth. So, the glorification of God by Jesus in this moment, who again would have expected glory on Calvary. But also, the glorification of Jesus by God.
And again, who would have expected that on Calvary? And again, looking at the figure of the dying Jesus. That this is the one who is glorified by God. Because he has accomplished perfectly, the will of the Father, has accomplished the love. This talk of a kind of mutual glorification really echoes a text like the great hymn in Saint Paul’s letter to the Philippians Chapter 2. He was in the form of God, though he did not count equality of God, the thing to be grasped. You know, the text well.
Now, at the very end of that text. The hymn says that the Father reached down to the very depths of destitution where Jesus had gone. Where he becomes a dead corpse, even death on a cross. Therefore, the hymn says, God glorified him, lifted him up. Glorified him and gave him the name, which is above every other name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on Earth and under the earth. And every tongue confess that Jesus Christ, this is the punch line, Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God, the Father. Now, in other words, the glory of Jesus and the glory of the Father are in perfect harmony. Whereas the problem with the fall back in the garden. Was that it was the clash of glories that created the problem. In other words, it seemed to be, again in the world, dark world of illusion. That it was either God’s glory or human glory. The two glories clashed.
And this is the catechesis of evil placed on the lips of the serpent. That it’s either your glory, human being, or it’s God’s glory. It can’t be both. It’s got to be one or the other. They’re in profound conflict. And that conflict, in fact, generates the fall. And the journey out of the garden and into the desert and onto the dark mountains of Calvary and beyond.
So, in fact, what we’re seeing now on Calvary. Is that the two glories, there’s no conflict. They’re in perfect harmony. And in this moment, what is accomplished is the perfect glorification of God and the perfect glorification of Jesus. Jesus is Lord, yep, doesn’t seem to be. But that’s what He is. To the glory of God, the Father. It’s not Jesus’ glory against the glory of God, the Father. The two are in perfect harmony. And that’s again, where you have the vision of paradise. That vision of perfect harmony, which is the ecstasy of God.
So, fulfilment of the promise. The accomplishment of the plan. And the plan is liberation. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, not one jot, not one tittle of this law will pass until its purpose is achieved. And what is the purpose of the law given by God to the chosen people? The purpose of the law is liberation. The liberating obedience, and this is what you see in Jesus. Perfect obedience leads to perfect liberation. This is the radical logic of Torah. That mystery of liberating obedience at the heart of the whole Scripture.
So, there is a perfect liberation possible. It’s not a mirage, but it is strangely, by way of an obedience. And it’s the obedience that is accomplished. And because it’s accomplished, the liberation itself is also accomplished.