8 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put
a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth.
All four gospels tell us that they offered Jesus sour wine to drink. Only John records Jesus’ words,
“I am thirsty.”
And only John draws attention to a scripture from the OT, the book of Psalms which, in some sense, he says, is being fulfilled here.
After everything that has already happened to Jesus, to highlight his thirst is almost jarringly trivial. Why mention it? It could be that the offer of sour wine, the common drink of soldiers and the lower classes, reminded all the gospel writers of the Psalm that John specifically draws attention to. The parallels are, indeed, uncanny.
I have lived in Eastern Europe where it is common for people to make their own wine. It is also common that the wine they make is of poor quality – sour to the point of tasting like vinegar. It makes you more thirsty.
In Psalm 69:21 the writer says,
“They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.” Who did that? Why would they? This psalm is about a righteous person who is being persecuted mercilessly. He says, “Save me, O God… I am weary with crying, my throat is parched, my eyes grow dim…. Many are those who would destroy me.”
There are two main types of Psalms: Praises and Laments. This is a lament. Psalms of lament, with only one exception, all end with a glimmer of hope. The writer, even in agony and pain, is able to imagine a future in which God has heard his cry, and has acted to save him. So he imagines himself offering praise to God in some future time, after he has been restored.
This Psalm says
“I will praise the name of God with a song. I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull… for the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own that are in bonds.” (Psalm 69:30)
Why does he make the point that songs of praise are as good as, maybe better than the animal sacrifices that the law of Moses requires? Because the only place sacrifice can be offered is at the temple, but in this moment, there is no temple. It has been destroyed. The psalm ends with the hope that God will rebuild the cities of Judah. They too have been destroyed. This is the time of exile. The writer is in the bonds of captivity in Babylon. His enemies are those who have conquered Jerusalem. His defeat is their victory. His pain is their pleasure. They give him vinegar to drink, mocking his parched thirst.
So Jesus, from the cross, identifies with the lament of the righteous sufferer of Psalm 69 who believes that even in his suffering, God is still present.
God can hear his cries. God can bring a future with hope.
On the cross, Jesus suffers as a righteous person, unjustly persecuted. In this way he fulfills the agony and the hope of the righteous sufferer of the Psalm. In this moment, Jesus feels the pain of all who are persecuted unjustly. Jesus knows the suffering of all whose pain is caused by others.
In this moment Jesus knows the pain of the battered wife and the despair of the girl who has been trafficked.
In his cry,
“I am thirsty.”
Jesus understands the agony of those who sit in prisons without being charged, without defense, and without hope for justice.
Jesus knows the pain of the victim of the predator and the victim of torture.
Jesus identifies with the suffering of the refugee, the collaterally damaged, and the pain of a family who buries a son, whose crime for which he died, can only be explained by the the neighborhood watcher who killed him.
“Blessed,” Jesus had said, “are those who hunger and thirst” for a world without victims.
Who thirst for a world without the tears of those who gather around crosses looking up at the innocent.
Blessed are those whose thirst is met not by the sour wine of soldiers, but by the sweet wine of the Kingdom.
Blessed are those who offer that wine of healing, restorative justice to the victims of senseless suffering, in the name of the one who said,
““I am thirsty.”