The first words Jesus speaks in John’s gospel form one of the most penetrating questions we as humans will ever be ask: “What do you want?” (John 1:38) We all have our wants. Some are shallow. Some are deeply carved into who we are. Jesus doesn’t differentiate between the shallow and the deep in his question. He simply asks. It’s up to us to answer out of our shallowness or out of our depth.
Later on in John’s gospel, Jesus echoes this initial question but with a more pointed focus: “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6) Here Jesus encounters a deep need, a deep desire by someone who has longed to be healed for many years. But now that what this man has wanted for so long is about to be given, Jesus asks the question: Do you really want this? Do you really want what you’ve said you want for so many years? Are you ready to leave the broken life behind, because there’s no going back to it? Are you ready to step into the healed life and all that it entails?
And now, here on the cross, we see Jesus himself in need. The great Giver himself wants something: “I thirst” (John 19:28). We’ve already seen him ask for something to drink of a nameless and disgraced Samaritan woman. Interestingly, even in the midst of that thirst, he ended up offering her living water. For he is the one who alone quenches thirst: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them” (John 7:37-38).
But now on the cross, things are reversed. The thirst-quencher is himself thirsty.
The thirst of Jesus and his simple request legitimizes mine. In his bare need, expressed in two gasped words, I know that Jesus has truly entered my human condition. In this, I know that I can come to him with my own thirsts, my own wants. Not only is he the one who has what I truly want, what I’m truly thirsty for, he knows what it means to want, to be thirsty.
Jesus, I thirst, too.