A few weeks ago, I told you about part of my trip in Israel and Palestine. I told you about the rest stop chapel for the Beatitudes. On another day of the trip, we went through Cana. As we were driving from one place to the next, our tour guide yelled out, “This is Cana” as we passed through a small town. It seems to me that Cana would be worth a stop but we just blew right through.
Cana was where Jesus performed His first miracle turning water into wine at a wedding banquet. I would have liked to stop to see where the banquet was held. It would be fun to buy a bottle of wine in Cana. I imagine they sell a lot of wine in Cana. But, we didn’t stop; we just kept on course to our next destination.
I didn’t get wine in Cana but I got a bottle of wine in Jerusalem. It was kosher wine, not very good. I didn’t want to throw the remainder of the bottle away before I left and didn’t want to finish it so I smuggled it home. I pushed the cork down really well and rolled it up in a towel and put it in the middle of my suitcase. I made it through security with half of a bottle of wine and a water bottle full of water from the Jordan River. I really would have liked to have brought back a bottle of wine from Cana. Even if it was bad wine, it would have been cool to remember drinking Cana wine when reading John 2.
If you’ll recall the story, the happy couple ran out of wine half way through their party. Mary told the banquet servers to do whatever Jesus told them to do. So, He turns 6 stone jars of water into choice wine. At this point in the party, the couple would be serving the cheap stuff. The custom was to get the guests tipsy on good wine and serve cheap stuff after they can’t tell the difference between the good and the bad.
At the end of the celebration, their guests had already drank all the cheap wine, Jesus offers the couple and their guests sweet red wine. This sweet good wine was meant for celebration. It was an offering meant for new possibilities. You might say it was the wine of life. Jesus offered good wine and life and, in return, we offered sour wine and death.
We once again, another Sunday, stand at the foot of the cross listening to Jesus. After hanging on the cross for about 3 hours, He says, “I am thirsty.” The Bible says “they” which we can assume were the Roman soldiers standing around. They placed a sponge in a jar of sour wine and placed it on Jesus’ parched lips. In the next verse of John, which we will read next week, the Bible tells us Jesus received the drink.
Earlier that morning, Jesus had refused wine, but this time He received a drink. There is an important distinction between the 2 wines. In Mark chapter 15 verse 23, we are told Jesus was offered wine mixed with myrrh and this He refused. There was a custom that Jewish women would offer a narcotic drink to those condemned to death to alleviate some of the pain of their death. The first wine Jesus was offered mixed with myrrh would have gotten him high so He could deal with the pain of the crucifixion. But, He refused it choosing to consciously endure the full pain of His suffering (David Mathis, http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/the-wine-jesus-drank).
The wine Jesus chooses to drink is a sour wine vinegar known to relieve thirst better than water. It was the chosen drink of laborers working in the hot sun because it was cheap and refreshing. This wine was not meant to relieve His pain, but simply to quench His thirst.
His ministry begins and ends with wine. He offered the wine of life and new possibilities to a happy couple and their wedding guests marking the beginning of His ministry of miracles. In His last teaching, He again offered wine to guests at a banquet. Just the previous night, Jesus was gathered around a table with friends and He offered His friends the cup of the new covenant. He offered salvation in a cup. Jesus interpreted for His friends the death He was now dying. The cup they would drink in remembrance of Him was full of grace and salvation filled with blood from His death. Wine of life at a wedding, cup of salvation at Passover, and sour wine for His death.
Here is a man, the God-man, fully human and fully Divine, hanging on a cross in the hot sun for hours who refuses a pain killer but accepts sour wine vinegar. He could have opted out of this at anytime. He was, after all, God. He could have said, I’m outta here, y’all fend for yourself, I’m done. Instead, He suffered. He endured arrest, trial, and flogging. He carried the 100-lb cross bar of the cross through the streets of Jerusalem up to Golgotha. He endured being nailed to it and hung out in the hot sun. Instead of giving up on us, instead of high tailing it back to Heaven, He said, “if they die, I die.” Jesus was willing to live the life and die the death we die in order to understand the full spectrum of human mortality.
This death was a cup He prayed would pass from Him and one which He talked with His Disciples about. On the night before, after dinner, He withdrew into the garden of Gethsemane to pray. Matthew chapter 26 verse 39 says Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Earlier in His ministry, Jesus asks the Disciples if they would be able to drink from the cup He was going to drink from (Matthew 20:22). This cup was the cup of death which He now drank from.
This was what He wondered if the Disciples would have been willing to drink. But, this was not what He thirsted for. What He truly thirsted for was justice. As much as the Gospels talk about wine in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus talks about thirst.
Back to our Beatitudes, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6). Jesus has the prescription for this thirst for righteousness. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that whoever drinks from the well will continue to be thirsty but He offers them “spring of water welling up from eternal life” (John 4:14). Jesus tells His Disciples, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6: 35). Jesus tells a crowd, “let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink” (John 7:37).
The One who offered living water to quench the people’s thirst now thirsted for what He had promised to offer, justice. In the Old Testament, thirst was a metaphor for someone longing for God and all that God offers. The Psalmist in Psalm 42 starts with these words about thirst in verses 1 – 2: “As the deer pants for streams of water, So my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” A few more times, the Psalmist says he thirsts for God. The Hebrew people in the wilderness wandering for years longed for God and He offered them water from rocks and manna from Heaven. The prophets reminded the people of the water God offers.
If we thirst for God, we long for His presence, to long for His presence is to long for His compassion, to long for compassion is to long for His will, to long for His will is to long for justice. For Jesus to say He is thirsty, it is a cry from God’s justice. Not revenge against those who had a hand in His crucifixion. Jesus longed for the Kingdom of God, rather than the cross. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus offered water and wine wanting to give people what they most longed for, the rule of God, His justice and righteousness. Hanging on the cross was the place farthest away from God’s rule. Injustice had fallen on the most just man to ever live.
I believe Christ is still thirsty. Long after the cross, Jesus still longs for God’s Kingdom for us. He still waits for justice for His people. There is something we can do now to quench His thirst.
Matthew chapter 10 tells us how to offer water to quench His thirst. Verses 40 – 42 say:
“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciples, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”
For every cup of cold water we offer, we offer water to quench Christ’s thirst for justice. Every time we donate food to the food pantry, we offer water to quench Christ’s thirst for justice. When we reach out to our neighbors offering them Christ through ministries of hospitality, like the Easter Egg Hunt, Kids’ Movie Night or the book club, we welcome Christ. In so many ways, we offer to quench Christ’s thirst. As we help others, we are quenching Christ’s thirst for justice and longing for God’s kingdom.
3) William Willimon, Thank God It’s Friday, Abingdon Press.