“I am thirsty.” John 19:28.
In recent times, Christians have readily embraced the humanity of Jesus. But this has not always been the case. Not so long ago, it was common for Christians to emphasize the divinity of Christ, even to the point of ignoring his humanity. Many people thought, for example, that Jesus had all the knowledge of God while he was on the earth. That is to say, Jesus, while he walked the streets of Israel in AD 25, knew what the Dow Jones industrial average was going to close at on April 1, 2016. He could fix jet engines. He knew that DNA was a double helix.
While this may seem peculiar to a lot of people today, when I was a child I knew adults who felt this way.
It is not hard to see how someone could fall into thinking that way. We pray to Jesus. We worship him. We think of him as God. Why wouldn’t we think that Jesus knew everything about everything? God would.
But a careful reading of the Gospels shows that while Jesus may have had an awareness of his destiny, it is unlikely that he was clairvoyant. When he prayed in Gethsemane the night before he died, he said, “Father, take this cup away from me…” While it is clear he realized he was going to suffer and probably die soon, if he had known he would be resurrected 3 days after that, these words of desperation would have made less sense.
There were clearly limits to Jesus’ knowledge. When Jesus heals ten lepers and only one comes back to worship him, he acts surprised. “Where are the others?” he says. If he knew everything, he would know where the others were. In another passage, a woman with a long history of hemorrhaging touches his cloak and is healed. Jesus begins looking around for the person who touched him, because he “felt the power go out of him.” But he doesn't know who has touched him and been healed.
When Jesus first heard about the death of John the Baptist, he mourned. Why would he do this if he knew it was going to happen? Why would he have to be told?
And consider Judas. If Jesus knew from the very beginning that Judas was going to betray him, why would he select him as a disciple in the first place? And if Jesus selected Judas knowing fully that he was the betrayer, then it would be impossible to say that Judas betrayed Jesus. In that scenario, Jesus would simply have picked Judas for a job, and Judas would simply have done what he was supposed to.
Jesus clearly did have human limitations in knowledge, and physical limitations as well. Otherwise he never would have slept. Or ate. Or breathed. Why would he need to? He was God, right?
In the Passion story, the second to last thing Jesus says is that he is thirsty. At the very end, as one of his very last acts, he reminds us that he is as human as we are. Not a god with perfect knowledge and superhuman powers. A God with human knowledge and human powers.
After he announces that his is thirsty, what happens next? Someone soaks a sponge in vinegar and offers it to him. Most commentators believe the “vinegar” was sour wine, that is, cheap wine that Roman soldiers often drank for refreshment in the heat. Jesus tasted it, and refused it. This is a symbolic return to the garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus asks to have the cup taken away from him. In this case, Jesus is offered relief from his pain, a drink, and he refuses the cup, choosing instead to fully embrace his sacrifice. To fully embrace his human death.
For a complete list of links to the seven essays on this topic, please go here.