I Am Thirsty? Are You?

By Lisa Dunson

The full text of John 19:28 (NRSV) reads, “Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”

As I began working on this sermon, I couldn’t seem to do my normal exegetical work on this text, and I began to wrestle with these three little words, “I am thirsty.”  I also have to admit I got a little nervous because I couldn’t understand why these words felt so much larger and more challenging to me than other texts I have preached. Why were these three little words, one of the shortest set of sayings in the seven last words, challenging me so. Well, as I prayed about it and thought about it and prayed about it some more, I realized that it was because in this day, and in this hour, I too am thirsty. I realized the answer to why I was so challenged by this text was because this time, the words were not outside of me…these words, “I AM THIRSTY” were living inside of me.

You see, all I had to do was turn on the news or pick up a newspaper or even go on social media to see that there is a thirst that is permeating our world, our communities, and our spirits. I then looked back over all the seven last sayings of Jesus, and I recognized that this word is the pivot point in the life and impending death of Jesus. You see, this is the point at which Jesus’ attention pivots from ‘them’ to ‘Him.’ This is the point at which we are shown and come to understand the difference between the ‘humanity’ of Jesus and the ‘divinity’ of Jesus. This is the point at which Jesus knows he has done all He can for ‘them.’ You see, up to this point, we’ve heard Jesus ask forgiveness for ‘them’…we have heard Jesus extend unmerited grace to the thief being crucified beside Him…we’ve seen Jesus make provisions for His mother and we have heard His agonizing cry to His father asking why He had forsaken Him. But then, Jesus says, “I am thirsty.”

On the surface, it makes sense. He had been paraded through the streets carrying a large, heavy, wooden cross on His back, and He had been subjected, in an agonizing and torturous way, to the hot sun for hours; but Jesus knew that He was at the point of death and that His work had been completed and that there was nothing left for Him to do but “fulfill” the scripture, found in Psalm 69 verse 21, “and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” 

So, the question that began to plague me was, “What was Jesus thirsty for?” Certainly not “a jar full of sour wine” as we are told in the following verse, verse 29 of this Johannine text. As I sat with this question, I started to believe that perhaps, just perhaps we have a second pivot point in these three simple words, “I am thirsty.” Perhaps, this is also the point that Jesus’ attention transitions from Him…to ‘them.’ What if Jesus is ‘thirsting’ for both those He was leaving behind and for those of us who were to come. For those who would be subjected to the suffering that He had to know was looming down on this world; those for whose time of ‘suffering’ was just that, a matter of time. The when, where, how and by whom suffering would come, Jesus already knew, so could it be that He was thirsty because He already knew the deep thirst that was to come for those of us He loved, lived for and was dying for.

I can hear the cries of the people of Flint, Michigan shouting, “I am thirsty” for clean, safe water. I can hear the cries of the mothers and the fathers who have lost their sons and daughters to fearful, trigger-happy police officers screaming through tear-stained faces, “I am thirsty” to see my baby walk through that front door, one more time. I can hear the cries of Indigenous Americans, as they stand united…peacefully declaring, “We are thirsty” to keep our water and our land free from intrusion and destruction. I can hear the cries of the Muslims who have been and continue to be persecuted and blamed for acts of violence that the vast majority of them deplore just as much as the rest of our nation. I can hear the voices of millions of immigrants and emigrants who have and continue to contribute their gifts, talents, and skills to both build and help keep America great. You see, America can’t be ‘great’ without those who came here seeking a safer and better way of life or without our African foremothers and forefathers who were snatched from their native land, captured, shackled, brought to the Americas and forced into chattel slavery and indentured servitude.

And I believe I am not the only one who is thirsty.

I believe we are a thirsty people…

I believe we are a thirsty nation and I believe we are a thirsty, thirsty world.

“I AM THIRSTY” today family!

“I am thirsty for a world where the people of God, Allah or whoever one worships, can go into their houses of worship without fear of being shot, bombed or burned. “I am thirsty” for a world where a woman’s right to reproductive choice is HER right. “I am thirsty” for a world where missing Black boys and missing Black girls are given the same priority by the police and equal coverage by the news outlets…a world where just as much effort is put into finding ‘all’ of our missing…as is put into finding ‘some’ of our missing! I AM THIRSTY TODAY! “I am thirsty” for the world Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of…a world where “Black boys and Black girls would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” “I AM THIRSTY” for an Amos 5:24 kind of world where “justice rolls down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” “I AM THIRSTY” for a world where we value books more than we value bullets…a world where one’s intellect is the weapon of choice and not a gun. “I AM THIRSTY” for a world free of weapons of mass destruction and Mothers of All Bombs (MOAB’s)… and “I AM THIRSTY” for a world where chemicals are kept in laboratories and not in the backyards of underserved communities and communities of color. I AM THIRSTY TODAY!

And I believe I am not the only one who is thirsty. I believe we are a thirsty people…I believe we are a thirsty nation and I believe we are a thirsty, thirsty world. But unlike Jesus, we are not yet at the point where we can say, “It is finished” because no matter how thirsty we are, our work is NOT finished. Unlike Jesus, whose work here on earth was complete, our work is far from complete. Unlike Jesus, who was ready to commend His spirit to His father, we cannot commend our spirits to anyone… at least, not just yet. 

In the tradition of the Black Baptist church, the three questions I leave you with because I believe they are questions Jesus left us with are: 

  1. What are YOU thirsty for? 
  2. What are WE as a people thirsty for?
  3. And what are WE going to do about it?

“I am thirsty” today…. are you?

The Reverend Lisa Dunson is the President of the Alliance of Baptists Executive Committee and is a member of the Ministerial Team at Covenant Baptist UCC. She also serves as Co-Chair of the African American Women in Ministry (AAWIM) Global Engagement Committee and on the Executive Committee for the Potomac Association AAWIM.

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