If you want to know what a speaker means, then watch what he does.
After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. John 19:28-29
Being a police officer is dangerous work.
Over my 15 years in the department, I’ve found that the public, by and large, appreciates some of the danger we face. When I was a uniformed patrol officer, many people approached me in public places and thanked me for my work, expressing their hopes for my safety. One of my friends always tells me to wear my ballistic vest. And I know why. Officers get shot and stabbed and run over by cars. There are very real physical dangers.
But I think there’s another danger that faces a cop, an even greater one: the danger of thinking that physical safety and security are the greatest goods.
My experience tells me the gravest danger to public servants is a spiritual assault on their souls.
It is common for my colleagues to lose faith, first in people and then in God.
This often happens slowly over time: The trauma of seeing innocent children harmed and the broken nature of so many people in our communities takes a toll.
The ruthless nature of modern society and its vices can make us all skeptics, but none more so than the police who see folks at their worst.
Before somehow landing in a police car with a badge, I spent some time in the seminary. I use my training in philosophy and spirituality to try to strike a balance between my charitable faith and a healthy skepticism as to the motives of those I think might be committing crimes.
There is a truth that helps interpret both the intentions of your fellow citizens and the meaning of Scripture. Actions speak louder than words. If you want to know what a speaker means, then watch what he does.
Here’s an example: “I thirst.” These are among the last words of Jesus just before his death and resurrection in the Gospel of John.
What does he mean? Watch what he does.
It could easily be seen as a simple physical request for a drink, as he takes of the sour wine offered him. Dying for our sins at the hands of the Romans was cruel, tortured, agony. Even the harsh vinegar must have been a blessing to a parched throat.
We know Jesus drank, and then he died, but the Gospel does not stop there.
Go deeper. If you want to know what a speaker means, watch what he does.
From the moment he dies, Jesus is satiating his thirst, not from a physical cup, but for the most precious of God’s creation — our souls. He descends into Hell, he opens the gates of Heaven, he returns to his disciples to reveal the glory of the Resurrection and prepare them for the coming of the Holy Spirit and his Church. In his actions, he clearly seeks a spiritual satiation.
Jesus thirsts for all souls and so, it follows, Jesus must thirst for your soul. He cries out from the cross at the precious moment in time that he saves all. He cries out, not in triumph or pity or anger at the injustice of God dying for men. He cries out in desire that all might know his mercy and rest in him. His thirst is far beyond a need for cool draughts on a dry tongue.
Jesus talked of thirst before Calvary. His teaching during the Sermon on the Mount gave all of us the worthy mission to “hunger and thirst for righteousness…” so we can be “…satisfied.”
Is it any surprise that Jesus reveals to us on the cross that he has a deep spiritual thirst? What could be more righteous on God’s part than to so passionately yearn for us to return to him?
As a police officer, I strive to thirst for righteousness for the sake of those I serve. I have learned to serve the spiritual needs of those I meet, not just the physical. I try to take the time to listen to the broken and marginalized members of Christ’s body. I look for opportunities where a kind word of encouragement and mercy could bring peace rather than a cold legal consequence.
Even when I must arrest someone, I act justly and remember that no one is evil, even though we are all capable of great evil.
Jesus thirsts for the souls of the burglar, the robber, and even the pimp, just as he does for the policeman’s soul. I strive to be like Christ and to pray for those I pursue.
My prayer this Triduum is that we might give our souls to Jesus on the cross that he might be satisfied. His physical thirst was met with a bitter hyssop. His spiritual thirst remains.
Through God’s Grace and the ministry of His Church, I pray that you and I will let him drink deeply of our souls this very week.
Read all 7 reflections on each of the last words here.