"I thirst."--St. John 19:28
It is one of the attributes of the divinity of our Saviour that His life was elemental. Even when He was offering His life in love for the world, He was as simple as a child. If His cry of doubt in God's care for Him opens questions too deep for any human answer, the succeeding cry brings us to a word which everyone can comprehend. He who thought the thoughts of God; He who did the labour of heaven and earth; He, the King of Kings, felt the pains of the weakest of men. The agony of distressing doubt was followed by the faint murmur, "I am thirsty." Instantly the words pull at our heartstrings. We remember our own dear ones passing through the feverish hours of some dread disease, looking up to us with the appeal, "I am thirsty, my lips are parched with the heat." Instantly we know how the man Christ Jesus felt. Our sympathy goes out to Him; for, in this word, we can understand all. At least, we think we can.
Our Saviour always conformed to the simple life of the common man. Is any poor; so was He. Is any sorrowful; so was He. Is any in the misery of doubt; so was He. Is any in pain; so was He. Is any dying, reaching out for a sip of cooling water; so was He: He too said, intensely, patiently, wearily, "I am thirsty."
It is at once pathetic and inspiring that our King touched our lives at every point. He did not live above us, He lived with us. He touched all the common joys and sorrows, and with His touch they have become divine. When men asked Him about heaven, He put His hand on the tangled hair of a trusting child, and said, "Heaven is like this child of self-forgetfulness and love." When He instituted the Sacred Service of Remembrance and Strength, the Lord's Supper, He took two of the commonest things in life as outward and visible signs of the inward and spiritual grace--the bread of every day, the common wine of a Palestinian hillside. So today, if we are thoughtful, we must find memory of Jesus in every simple task and experience. He lived the common life; henceforth divinity hangs about our trivial occupations.
Several days after a battle in the Civil War, an officer of the Hospital Commission, going over the bloody field, heard a weak voice calling him. One whom he had thought dead was still alive. Horribly wounded, the soldier could not hope to live; but it was a comfort to talk to some one. Four days he had been lying there, waiting for the inevitable end. He told how his dying lips had grown hot and dry. "But," he said, "I have been thinking of the Saviour, and of how much less I had to suffer than He; for when I was burning up with fever and was thirsty, the rain fell, and my month was cooled." So always men have seen a light on the common hardships of life, because Jesus felt them too.
We must remember that at the start, before He was nailed to the Cross, the soldiers had offered to Him, as to the other prisoners, a stupefying mixture of wine and myrrh, which would have deadened the pain. We must remember that He refused to take it. He was going to accept whatever pain was allotted to Him. This was no Stoic contempt for pain, but a deliberate purpose to keep His consciousness. Had He been drugged, had He been still unconscious of what was passing when the penitent thief spoke Ms word of respect and love, then that penitent thief could not have heard the most cheering words of all his life. But besides this courageous intention to be alert to the last, in case any cried to Him for help, Jesus certainly was one who would not swerve from the discipline of pain when it squarely confronted Him. In these days when science has invented ingenious methods of escaping pain by anaesthetics, we are in wave danger of losing sight of the two great uses of pain. First, pain is a warning. The physician, as well as the moralist, sees need for serious hesitation in covering up pain. The natural course of the pain may tell one exactly what to do, not to conceal the pain, but to cure it. Because a child burns his hand when he puts it into the fire he is doubtless saved, time and again, from being burned up; the pain is a warning of what would happen to him if he played too much with the sparkling, dancing flame. No physician would dare to put anything upon the child's hand so that when the child thrust his hand into the fire, he would not feel it. But pain is more than a warning. It is a possible discipline, which may refine and ennoble the sufferer. You notice I say that it is a possible discipline. Sometimes, alas pain makes the sufferer fretful, selfish, hard, bitter. But I pass that by. We all know people who, having been careless, indifferent, thoughtless, have entered into great pain to be refined by it as gold is refined. The dross is consumed; and glowing, beautiful character remains. The old carelessness is gone--every word is gentle; the old indifference is gone--there is sympathy for all who are in any trouble; the old thoughtlessness is gone--God is remembered, loved, worshipped. We run grave risk these days of being soft, dodging every pain and sorrow. It is bad in medicine to cover up the pain; it is equally bad in the practical art of developing character.
If pain should come to you--and it will come--remember that it is not an unmixed evil. It may help you to be that which you could not have been, had not its torture overtaken you. Great men all the ages have been entering its mystery and have been emerging from it, strangely glorified. And the greatest of all--Christ our King--felt it in the sharpness of death. Henceforth pain is more than warning, more than discipline. It is regal, it is divine.
When our Saviour had said, "I am thirsty," His cry was immediately interpreted as an appeal for help. The soldiers had beside them a bowl of sour wine which was allowed them for their refreshment. One of them dipped a sponge in the wine, and fastening it to a bit of hyssop, held it to His mouth. It was a deed of courtesy, of mercy; and Jesus accepted it. If the soldier ever came to understand more of this King at whom a little before he had been laughing and jesting, how supremely grateful he must have been that he, poor, blinded soldier, did that kindness for the suffering Saviour. We cannot help believing that Jesus gave to him such a look of appreciation that the man never forgot it.
The end was evidently near. It was too late to do much for the dying King. But He allowed Himself the comfort which the bit of wine could give. Once more we see His simplicity, His naturalness. The formal books about Him are apt to make Him seem aloof from men, playing, as it were, a great part, almost posing as our eternal example. This unreality is far from the Gospel records. There we see Him, even at the supreme moment, thankfully receiving a bit of help from a coarse Roman soldier. There was no Stoic hardness in His heroism. Where alleviation was legitimate He would receive it.
Once more we see the King upon His throne. We see no pomp and circumstance. The real King never plays with such trinkets. We see only the majesty of self-forgetful Love. There is no thought of so-called dignity. The King upon His throne is dying. He pitifully calls for help. Why do not the Kings of the earth come by, in their ermine robes, to do Him service? Why do not the angels of heaven break through the unseen, and bring Him some divine nectar? "I thirst," He cries in the agony of death. The King of Kings, the Son of God, is in great pain. O kings of the earth, O highest orders of angels, come to His relief! But no: a flippant, drowsy, rough Roman soldier, suddenly grown tenderhearted, brings Him a little sour wine on a sponge. And the King of Kings does not turn away. He who could have summoned the angels, is not thinking of the dignity which befits His station. The help He craves He takes from a stupid, common man who stands by. O Saviour King! We too are stupid, common men. Accept today the only help we bring--our grateful hearts, our adoration, our overflowing love.
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