“I am thirsty.“John 19:28
One of the most poignant and powerful hymns is Once in Royal David’s City, a story about the humanity of Jesus’ birth and childhood. The Fifth Word reminds me of these lines,
He was little, weak, and helpless,
Tears and smiles like us He knew,
And He feeleth for our sadness,
And He shareth in our gladness.
And he felt that most human sensation thirst.
The Fifth Word arguably was inserted here to show the fulfillment of Psalm 69, verses 3, “My throat is parched,” and 21, “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”
As a literary device anchoring the real human suffering into a parallel piece of well-known scripture it works.
But the drink offered Jesus was likely something called, Posca, a watered down wine mixed with herbs and spices. Roman soldiers who wanted to avoid waterborne illness in local water supplies consumed Posca instead. It wasn’t offered in cruelty but because it was there.
Jesus is often described as a lamb. Thomas Hardy, in an ode called Compassion, composed in honor of an organization against animal cruelty wrote,
Wherefore beholds this land of historied rights
Mild creatures, despot-doomed, bewildered, plead
Their often hunger, thirst, pangs, prisonment,
In deep dumb gaze more eloquent
Than tongues of widest heed?
We are hardly neither dumb in our suffering nor eloquent. We are much more like the refugees in the desert complaining to Moses.
“Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
We are aggrieved at the soldier, because it aligns with the narrative in the Psalm, and our Jesus deserves better than vinegar. But Jesus does not complain at the response; he asks, there is an answer, and he accepts what he’s given.
Choral Response: Fac, ut portem Christi mortem, Stabat Mater, Pergolesi
Hymn in Response: When I Survey the Wondrous Cross