"I Thirst" John 19:28

10-01-2023Weekly ReflectionFr. Robert Aliunzi

Dear Friends,

Two weeks ago, more than 160 of our Priests from the Diocese of Phoenix joined Bishops Dolan, Nevares and Olmsted for a four-day Priests’ Convocation in Flagstaff. The weather there was gorgeous, the camaraderie among the priests was very uplifting and the surrounding pine trees were just beautiful, complete with trails for a leisurely walk. During one of our longest breaks one afternoon, two of my friends and I, decided to take a walk and enjoy the beauty of the pine forest. The walk was so enjoyable and conversation so interesting that soon we did not realize how far we had gone till we began to feel thirsty. Unfortunately, we realized that none of us had gone with a bottle of water. The thirst I felt that moment in my case, reminded me of an incident I experienced many years ago except it was worse.

It was a morning in December 1980, a year after Idi Amin the then Ugandan president was overthrown by some rebels. My brother Peter, sister Mary and I, the only members of the family who did not flee to Sudan for refuge began hearing heavy artillery fire very early in the morning, at first from a distance. Then it gradually grew closer and closer until, we could not bear the sound. Therefore, joining other villagers, we made for the nearest mountain for cover on our attempt to flee to Sudan for refuge. Unfortunately, the whole day, we were unable to find our way out of the mountain most of us knew so well.

One of the things that I still remember vividly from that experience was not the sound of the guns and bombs dropping on the rocks near us, nor the cries of frightened women and children, nor the hunger, nor the exhaustion, but the thirst I felt, after not having had any water to drink for over fifteen hours under a very hot scorching sun similar to the one we have been experiencing here, most of the day.

I can still vividly remember dying for a sip of some water to quench my thirst…not clean water from a clean running tap but just water. Anything that went by the description of water. That form of water was suddenly provided by some rain which fell uncharacteristically out of nowhere in that hot dry December season. I can still remember how we all struggled to quench our thirst by whatever amount we could lap out of the pools that formed on the rock hollows. So, I know what it means to be thirsty…I know what it means to quench that thirst from dirty or unclean water. That is why I often catch myself in embarrassment when I find myself complaining about things such as the summer heat we have just experienced or the slowness of the running water in my tap, or the speed of my computer. It could have been worse!

At any rate, after quenching the physical thirst, I then came to realize that I was also thirsty for something else. Something more. I was thirsty for security, for freedom, for love and for the company of my family who had left us behind.

At a deeper level however, it made me reflect even more on that same word “thirst” Jesus uttered on the Cross when He said: “I thirst!” But what was He thirsty for, I pondered?

Certainly first, for something simply to wet His parched lips, His dry mouth, His dry throat. That’s obvious. After the agony He had been enduring for hours on the Cross, it is understandable that Jesus would be suffering bitter dehydration and blistering thirst. He just needed something wet — and yet this thirst seems such a minor thing in light of the fact that His whole wounded, lashed, pain-wracked body hangs heavily on the Cross.

In the agony of His thirst, we are told, there was a jar full of sour dirty wine. That is wine gone bad. It is vinegar. Can you smell it? Can you taste it? The sharp scent and foul taste must have stung Jesus, but the wetness and little amount of water in it offered just a moment of relief, bitter though it may be.

So, when Jesus said, “I am thirsty,” there is no doubt that he was experiencing the absolute worst physical pain imaginable. It was real: the 39 harsh lashes, the excruciating crown of thorns, the iron spikes driven through his hands and his feet, the sheer torture of hanging there for three hours, gasping for each breath. It was horrible!

But this also means God knows the enormity of human pain — even the pain we experience in illness, wounded-ness and heartbreak, isolation and whatever we might be going through, because God became human flesh and felt that pain deeply on the Cross for us.

And in the midst of that deep, desperate pain, Jesus expresses a simple reality: I thirst. He begs for something to soothe His dry mouth and loosen His tongue sticking to his jaws. But Jesus had a deeper thirst too…thirst for your love and friendship, thirst for YOU! He is present body, spirit soul and divinity in the Eucharist. He is thirsting for you to come and visit Him. Will you give Him at least thirty minutes a week in adoration?

I love you!