You know what it is like to be thirsty. Working outside on a hot summer day or taking a long run can cause your mouth to feel completely parched. Hot and sweaty, your whole body seems to cry out for a drink—for anything that will cool you down and satisfy you.
Think about that for a minute, then consider how Jesus himself hungers and thirsts for you. Scripture tells us that, “We love because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4:19), and that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Jesus came because he wanted us. He died on the cross because he wanted to draw us back to him.
When Jesus hung on the cross, he called out: “I thirst” (John 19:28). These words obviously have a literal meaning. Jesus was thirsty. He was losing all of the fluid in his body, and he was going into shock. As a man like us in all things but sin, he was desperately craving something to drink. Psalm 22 gives us a graphic depiction of what this must have felt like: “Like water my life drains away; all my bones grow soft. My heart has become like wax, it melts away within me. As dry as a potsherd is my throat; my tongue sticks to my palate; you lay me in the dust of death” (Psalm 22:15-16). This is what Jesus did for us—but with far greater ramifications.
A parallel example of Jesus' thirst for us comes from the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan priest who lived in Poland during World War II. He was arrested by the Nazis and taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp in May of 1941. In July, one of Kolbe's fellow captives escaped and, in retaliation, ten men were chosen to be executed. One of the men begged his captors not to kill him, as he had small children and could not bear to leave them without a father. The soldiers remained firm until Kolbe volunteered to take the father's place. The ten were led to an underground bunker, where they were left to starve to death. After two weeks, only four men were left alive, and Kolbe was the only one conscious. The four were killed by lethal injections on August 14, 1941. Fr. Kolbe took the place of another man, freely accepting his fate so that the other man could go free.
The story of Maximillian Kolbe is a figure of the lengths Jesus was willing to go to save us and draw us into an intimate relationship with him. It shows us, in fact, that his hunger and thirst for our love is greater even than our hunger and thirst for him. Jesus' words, “I thirst,” point to us. By dying on the cross for our sins, he didn't take the place of just one man. He died for all of us. This shows how deeply he thirsted for us and for our salvation. It shows, too, how much Jesus thirsts for an intimate relationship with each one of us. When he died, he fulfilled his mission to satisfy us, who are hungry and thirsty, with good things (Psalm 107:9). Maximillian Kolbe took another man’s place, freeing him to live; because Jesus freely took your place, he gave you the chance to live, free to be a whole new creation. And even now, reigning in the perfection of heaven and needing absolutely nothing, Jesus still wants to have us by his side. What magnificent love! What a magnificent God!