By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published April 5, 2022
When my sister and I were toddlers, we played in a courtyard at the back of the family’s brownstone. Our mother would look out the window occasionally to make sure we weren’t wreaking havoc, but generally we were left to our own devices. At some point, thirst would strike and we would start yelling for her.
Rather than walk downstairs, however, she invented an ingenious plan, which consisted of taking plastic cups of water, tying a rope around them and lowering them down to us. Once we’d had our fill, we tugged on the rope, and she lifted the cups back into the kitchen.
With that memory in mind, my eyes fill with tears whenever I get to the part of the Passion story where Jesus says through parched lips, “I thirst.” He had been imprisoned overnight, no doubt without food and water, and then beaten brutally and pierced with nails. Dehydrated from the loss of blood, he was experiencing an intense, painful thirst, impossible to imagine.
He was in excruciating pain, and could have shouted something else. In his situation, wouldn’t we have begged someone to get us down, stop the agony? Many men who were crucified apparently cursed the crowd so viciously that their tongues were cut out to silence them. But Jesus had just stunned the crowd by his gentleness when he forgave his tormentors!
I think of Mary beneath the cross, remembering the times she heard her son, when he was a little boy, asking for a drink of water. Remembering how she’d get up in the middle of the night to care for him. Recalling how she quenched his thirst with her own milk, when he was an infant.
She must have wept, realizing she couldn’t help him now, even though his need was so great. She couldn’t relieve his pain, she couldn’t wipe the blood from his face and she couldn’t put a cup of water to his lips.
At the same time, she surely knew her Son’s thirst also had a deeper meaning. “Not a drink of earthly water, that is not what he meant, but a drink of love!” Fulton Sheen writes. After all, wasn’t that Christ’s message, that we should love one another and forgive our enemies? And on the cross, wasn’t he the ultimate picture of someone the crowds hated? They wanted him to undergo the cruelest, most humiliating punishment imaginable. They saw the Lamb of God as an enemy! They thought this gentle soul was worse than the murderer Barabbas!
In the homes that Mother Teresa started, the words “I thirst” are written in big letters behind every altar in every chapel. The sisters know that when they minister to poor, broken people, they are satisfying Christ’s thirst for love.
It is this love he offered the Samaritan woman at the well, when he said, “Everyone who drinks this water shall thirst again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life. It is this love he offered his disciples when he said, “Whoever believes in me will never thirst.”
Some people pursue riches and power, while others chase beauty and youth. Everything we thirst for on earth ultimately fails us. Beauty fades, riches disappoint, power corrupts. Promises are broken and gentle hearts are crushed.
A baby in a manger, crying for milk; girls in a courtyard, calling for a drink; a mother beneath the cross, weeping. And everywhere, the longing for something meaningful, something changeless, something that will nourish our souls forever.
Only Christ can quench our thirst for something deeper, which is an endless spring of living water, an eternal stream of love.