By Sister Barbara Moore 

The well-known Jesuit author James Martin, in his book Seven Last Words, writes “…we have a God who suffered intensely and, as we will see, suffered many of the same things we suffer. Thus, we have a compassionate God, a sympathetic God, an empathetic God, a God who understands our lives because [God] experienced our lives.” (p. 12) That statement is so clearly seen in Martin’s beautiful meditation on Jesus’ final words. 

As we reflect on the final words that a dying Jesus shares from the cross, “I Thirst” is the only one of the seven words that seems to focus on his own very personal needs. The other six contain an additional outward focus: “Forgive them,” “Behold your mother,” or the announcement “It is finished.” As we delve into each word, we soon realize that all of them contain an immediate outward, and yes, a contemporary focus. 

You and I often take the beautiful gift of our five senses for granted as we encounter others and live our daily lives. Each of these five senses enabled Jesus to address his own environment, the needs of others, and to place himself in the other’s world. 

It is no wonder that after his trial, the decision of Pilate, the crowd’s reaction, their demands and the beating he received, his physical thirst became a primary need for his ravaged body. The act of crucifixion can seem sterile as we read about it, but when we embrace its cruelty and Rome’s use of it as a deterrent, its enormous pain is beyond our imagination. Of course, he humanly cried out, “I thirst.” 

But as we reflect on the Gospels, Jesus thirsted on multiple levels during his life among us. His expression of “I thirst” was a characteristic of his whole life and ministry. 

To enter the Synagogue of his youth and share with neighbors that “This day Isaish’s words were fulfilled in him” (Lk. 4:21) only to experience their anger, their attempted violence, rejection and threats had to be so painful. He thirsted for their love and acceptance as we all do from those we know and with whom we have history. 

He thirsted for men, women and children to be free of hunger, sickness, possession and violence. He thirsted for his beloved faith community to return to the deepest meanings of their Jewish law and rituals. He yearned to see the heart of his faith take center stage. “The Sabbath was made for man…” (Mk. 2:27) as he acted to cure others. He even went so far as to identify with those in his day and in our day who thirst. “What you do for the least you do for me.” (Mt. 25:40) 

For what do I thirst this Lenten season? 

This fifth final word plays out daily as we experience the gun violence around us, wars, suffering children and famine, and we thirst for the Kingdom of God to take hold among us. Violence toward women, and hatred between and within cultures fill our lives, and our tools of communication. 

Human thirst is not a solitary physical need but a communal and continuing one in our lives as it was in the life of Jesus. There is so much you and I long for and thirst for in our own lives and in our suffering world. As Holy Week approaches, perhaps there is one area in our lives that needs our attention. For what do I “thirst” this Holy Week? 

The poet Mary Oliver, in her book Thirst, writes: 

Another morning and I wake with thirst 
for the goodness I do not have. I walk 
out to the pond and all the way God has 
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, 
I was never a quick scholar but sulker 
and hunched over my books past the hour 
and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, 
a little more time. Love for the earth 
and love for you are having such a long  
conversation in my heart. Who knows what 
will finally happen or where I will be sent, 
yet already I have given a great many things 
away, expecting to be told to pack nothing 
except the prayers which, with this thirst, 
I am slowly learning. 


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