There once was a young boy playing football outside in the street all afternoon in the summertime heat. The streetlights, which stood as end-zone markers, began to glow as the sunlight faded, signaling that it was time to announce, “Next score wins!” to the rag-tag bunch of neighborhood friends. To say that the evening was hot would be like saying chocolate chip cookies are “just ok,” with milk, or a trip to the DMV was just a short wait. It was balmy, and the air was thick. The child ran inside with a thirst that a child only realizes he has when the game is over. As we ran into the living room he saw a small, half-full glass of water with three ice cubes sitting next to an over-turned National Geographic magazine. It would be far too much work to go to the kitchen and pour his own glass of water. He was basically dying of thirst, at least it felt like if he didn’t gulp down the nearest beverage that his body would break apart like clay in a dried riverbed.
He grabbed the glass, threw it back, and in one gulp, he seemingly inhaled the ice-cold, life saving water, except…it wasn’t water at all. He failed to notice the bottle of Smirnoff Vodka on the kitchen counter. It felt like his insides were on fire. He couldn’t breathe or move or hardly think. He just stood there hoping that the poison he imbibed wouldn’t kill him before he was able to at least ask who would pull such a terrible trick. His father came into the room, saw the empty glass and the boy whose face was the combination of fear, disgust, and confusion. The father simply said, “It’s like watching natural selection happen right in front of me.”
It’s a shock to the system when you expect water, and discover that the glass is half-full of something else. Although no one was playing a prank on the young boy, it certainly felt as if someone was deliberately plotting an evil scheme just to see what the reaction might be. When Jesus was near death he cried out, “I’m thirsty,” and what he received was a sour wine. It could be that Jesus was actually thirsty. Crucifixion quickly leads to dehydration, if the pain and suffocation doesn’t get you first, but because Jesus’ thirst is recorded only in John’s poetic and theologically symbolic Gospel (John 19:28), there is something more at work here. Jesus’ thirst goes beyond sustenance. Jesus thirsts for righteousness. Jesus thirsts for justice with mercy. Jesus thirsts for the kind of transformation in which living water would pool.
Diving even deeper into the story, wine plays a crucial role in the story John is telling. Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine at the wedding in Cana. He took the water stored in six stone jars, and transformed them into the best wine the steward had ever brought to his lips. Jesus offered the best wine to humanity, and what he received in turn was a sour concoction meant to further his humiliation. And yet, Jesus accepts this disgrace and leaves it powerless when the tomb was empty on the third day. Although the institution of the last supper is never mention in John’s Gospel, the wine at the beginning and ending of the story is a symbol of covenant, transformation, and resurrection. Jesus could have transformed the wedding cake into three tiers or switched out the DJ’s Spotify playlist to play only family friendly hits. He chose to transform the ordinary water into the extraordinary and best wine, just as Christ transforms us into his own body set for resurrection. For what do you thirst? I hope when you come to the communion table you thirst for more than what is in the cup. I pray you thirst for what the cup represents and calls us to become—one body with one Lord, taking the sour divisiveness of humanity, and transforming it into reconciliation and peace. So, yes, be careful what you drink, but moreover be careful of the drink you are sharing with a thirsty world.