“I am thirsty.” John 19:28.
As he recounts this climactic moment of Jesus’ life, the gospel writer John stands at a decidedly different place than the other three gospel writers. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each tell the story of the sour wine offered to Jesus from the perspective of an outside observer, offering an accurate recounting of that moment. John alone speaks from the perspective of Jesus. From this point of view, John tells us that at this moment, Jesus knew that his mission on earth was complete. that there was nothing additional left for him to accomplish.
He also reminds his readers that Jesus wanted the people in the crowd to recall the words of Psalm 69:21 where we read, “They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” It is as if John is saying to his readers, “For Jesus, there is no such thing as a moment that could not be used to teach. You might hear these three simple words as nothing more than the most simple possible statement of physical need. But Jesus – even with his dying breath – is tirelessly pointing people back to the scriptures and to God’s presence in their lives.”
John is also alone in identifying the stick on which the vinegar-soaked sponge was attached as being the branch of a hyssop tree. We learned during last weekend’s sermon that hyssop is a central symbol of liberation and of purification. The Israelites were directed to use the hyssop branch to spread the blood of the lamb on their doorposts so that the angel of death would “pass over” their homes in Egypt. Hundreds of years later, King David invokes the hyssop branch as a means of being purified from sin in Psalm 51 following the disclosure of his affair with Bathsheba.
And so John, in the very short span of two verses, reminds us that Jesus is our rabbi (or, teacher), our liberator, and the one through whom we are cleansed from our sin. And as we stand at the foot of the cross witnessing this painful scene, we find ourselves suddenly reminded that Jesus also serves for us – just as he was for the Samaritan woman – as the source of what he referred to as “living water” in John 4:10, in sharp contrast to the sour wine the world offered him to drink in his hour of need.
As we journey deeper and deeper into this Holy Week, let us make a point of recalling all of the roles Jesus plays in our life, and all of the ways he seeks to express his love.