Doing a quick Google search will reveal that “thirst” is referenced close to 43 times in the Bible. I once was told that when you study scripture, you can identify when something is important by how often it is repeated. 43 times – don’t you think God is telling us that “thirst” and the idea of “thirsting” for something is probably important? I mean, even Jesus uttered the words, “I thirst” as one of his seven last words on the cross. Yeah, I’d say “thirst” is pretty important.
So what does it mean to be “thirsty”? In our lives, we’ve all had moments when we felt thirsty – that feeling of needing something to quench our desire for a drink. But we can thirst for so much more than just a large, cool glass of ice water. We can thirst for people and feelings, something figurative or symbolic. When we hear Jesus speak the words, “I thirst”, I don’t believe he is speaking about his need for water or something to drink. I believe he’s figuratively referencing his need for a savior, a sign, or a presence to help him at his most human and vulnerable time.
So many people, like Jesus, thirst for something more. Take, for instance, the Woman at the Well; a woman who had been married five times and was considered an outcast; often talked about as a divorcee, a harlot, even an adulteress. But, what if she was none of those things? What if we reframe our thinking and consider her as someone who was simply ashamed because she was a victim that suffered at the hands of her abusers, which is why she was left unmarried and again with another man ? We know nothing about this woman’s true backstory. Reframing the woman in this context allows her to become someone we can empathize with – someone we may know. Regardless of what her narrative may be, what makes the story more interesting is not who she was, but why she was at the well at the specific time of day. This woman was found alone during the latter part of the day as opposed to the early morning hours when women typically went to avoid the high heat at noon. Perhaps this was an intentional choice on her part to avoid those feelings of shame that others imposed on her as a result of the realities of her life. We’ve all been there. We’ve all felt the need to avoid the staring eyes of our “neighbors”, to avoid the shame and guilt we were feeling in a moment. I can picture this already uncomfortable woman, in the exact moment that Jesus arrives – here she is purposefully visiting the well during high noon to avoid others, and ahead of her, she makes out a figure in the distance. The panic, the surprise; she is suddenly taking deep, long breaths to control her thoughts, bracing herself for the moment that this strange man inevitably speaks to her.
But the feelings of inadequacy and shame don’t keep Jesus away. And yet, he goes one step further and chooses her to speak to. What’s radical about this is not only does he choose a woman, (strike 1), but she’s also considered to be an ethnic outsider (remember, she was a Samaritan woman and therefore was considered a foreigner) (strike 2), and she has had 5 husbands (strike 3). Out of all the times Jesus sits and speaks with someone in the Bible, the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well is one of the longest documented conversations between him and another person. That says a lot in of itself. But, it is in this conversation that Jesus references “thirst” so poignantly. In John 4: 13 – 15, Jesus says to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again (referencing the physical water in the well), but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” And she replies, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
What’s astonishing is that right after Jesus offers her “living water full of eternal life” so that she may never go thirsty again, he meets her at her lowest point, and asks about her husband. To me this is symbolic of how water gathers at its lowest elevation. How powerful is the message that if you want your thirst quenched, then you need to present yourself as you are, with your all of your faults? And just like water pooling at its lowest elevation, the “living water” offered by Jesus Christ finds your lowest point and it flows to your original wound and makes you whole.
It is during this moment with the woman at the well, that we truly understand the importance of “thirst.” When Jesus utters his last words, he presents himself to us at his most human and vulnerable form. These are Jesus’ wounds. And at his lowest point, he calls out to have his thirst quenched, for the living water of eternal life. And just like Jesus, so many around us – many who may not look, act, think, or speak like us – are thirsting for more. So we, as followers of Christ, are called to see and empathize with those who are thirsty, and bring them water.
- Greg Guenther