Thirst” is often used in the metaphorical sense as a metaphor for a strong desire such as thirst for knowledge, for vengeance, for love, for wealth. In the Bible, this metaphorical sense usually refers to spiritual thirst, as in:
“My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” Psalm 42:2 (42:3 Hebrew Bible).
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm 63:1 (63:2 Hebrew Bible). “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Matthew 5:6.
There are two passages where Jesus is mentioned as being thirsty:
“For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink…,” which, of course, doesn’t mean either that Jesus was thirsty for souls or that he was really hungry and really thirsty for food and water. There is one occasion, on the cross, that Jesus said “I thirst,”1 which has the literal meaning that Jesus had become so dehydrated that he cried out “I thirst.” In the original Greek of the NT, “I thirst” is the shortest of Jesus sayings, which consists of one Greek word, διψάω dipsaō . In the English translation of the NT, “I thirst” shares this honour with “Jesus wept (two words in Greek Ἰησοῦς Iēsous δακρύω dakryō).
“Afterwards, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said: I thirst” (John 19:28), which fulfils Psalm 69:21 “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” There is also, in the Christian view, the allusion of Christ’s thirst in Psalm 22:15: “My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaves to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.”
According to John 19:28, the only significance of Jesus’ cry “I thirst” is that it fulfilled a prophecy in the Psalms that buttresses His claim to Messiahship. This seems to be the general Protestant view with some exceptions, for example, John Gill, who says “I thirst; which was literally true of him, and may be also understood spiritually of his great thirst and eager desire after the salvation of his people.”
” Jesus said, I thirst (John 19:28).
The verse, says Horatius Bonar, is “the only reference which the Lord makes to pain of body ; the others are to the griefs of his troubled soul. No doubt, in the Psalms he alludes once or twice to his bodily sufferings, as when he speaks of his bones being out of joint, his heart melted like wax, his strength dried up like a potsherd. But these intimations of corporeal pain are few; it is of the sorrows of his soul, in connection with the wrath of God, that he speaks so fully. In the Gospels, this cry of thirst is the only expression of bodily anguish that is recorded ; and from the way in which it is introduced we are plainly given to understand that even this cry would not have been uttered had it not been for the fulfilling of Scripture. However terrible the thirst, the cry would have been repressed, had it not been for what was written in the Psalms concerning this,—” In my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink” (Ps. Lxix. 21). For thus the Evangelist writes : ” After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst” (Horatius Bonar, Sermon XVI. “The surety’s thirst”).
Another example, by Curtis Peter van Corder:
“Last Christmas some friends and I did a program at a center for the handicapped that is run by the Missionaries of Charity, the Catholic order that Mother Teresa founded. I noticed a large banner on the wall that read I thirst,’ and I asked why they had chosen these two last words of Jesus. ‘That cry of Christ has become our rallying cry,’ one of the sisters explained. Shortly before she passed on to her heavenly reward, Mother Teresa said, ‘His thirst is without end. He, the Creator of all, pleads for the love of His creation. He thirsts for our love. These words, ‘I thirst,’ do they not echo in our souls?’”
Here is Mother Teresa in the “Decree of Erection” for her congregation:
“To quench the thirst of Our Lord Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls by the observance of the three Vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience …” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, the Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta”, edited and with commentary by Brian Kolodiejchuk, M. C. (USA: Doubleday, 2007, p. 20)
The “Mother Teresa Charism” invites us to experience the intense and infinite thirst of Jesus on the Cross — and in the Eucharist — for love and for souls as she experienced it, and also to quench his thirst as she tried to quench it with all the power and stamina of her being.
“The general aim of the Society of the Missionaries of Charity”, writes Bl. Teresa, “is to quench the thirst of Jesus. ‘I thirst’, Jesus said on the Cross. When Jesus was deprived of every consolation, dying in absolute poverty, left alone, despised and broken in body and soul, he spoke of his thirst — not for water — but for love, for sacrifice”.
An important principle in textual interpretation is to distinguish between metaphorical/figurative and literal meaning. There’s often disagreement on, first, whether a meaning is literal orfigurative, and, second, whether a literal meaning can also extend to a figurative meaning. In the light of these distinctions, let us now examine a few salient scripture passages on Jesus and thirst to try and establish whether the Jesus of scripture thirsts for souls:
“Now he (Jesus) came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph, Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, since he was tired from the journey, sat right down beside the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.”… So the Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you – a Jew – ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” (John 4:6-15).
In this passage, it is not Jesus who was, in mother Teresa’s word, “thirsting for souls.” Indeed, nowhere in the Bible is Jesus or God described as thirsty for souls. The (figurative) thirst is in the human throat; it is man – a minority of men – who thirsts for God. In the Psalms David cries: “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (42:2), and “My Soul Thirsts for You” (63:1, 143:1). In many other passages, it is God who promises to quench man’s thirst, as in Isaiah: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters…” (55:1); in Matthew “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (5:6). There are many other examples.
Where does Mother Teresa get the idea that Jesus is constantly “thirsting for souls?” I think the constant sacrifice of the Mass has much to do with it. In Roman Catholic theology – perhaps, philosophy is a more appropriate term – the sacrifice is never over.
According to Roman Catholicism, Christ was not sacrificed once and for all, but is sacrificed constantly – in the Mass. From this idea it’s no big leap to imagine that every time Christ is “offered” as a sacrifice in the Mass, He also thirsts (for souls) as he did at His crucifixion.
The term “constant” is from Pope John Paul II. In his teaching of the sacrifice of the Mass, Pope John Paul II writes:
. . . the Church is the instrument of man’s salvation. It both contains and continually (my italics) draws upon the mystery of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice. Through the shedding of His own blood, Jesus Christ constantly (my italics) “enters into God’s sanctuary thus obtaining eternal redemption” (cf. Heb 9:12). (Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope (New York: Knopf, 1995, p. 139). The underlined section is the Pope’s rendition of Hebrews 9:12.).
The Pope’s “constantly enters” resonates with the Council of Trent’s declaration that the Mass is not merely a “re-enactment”, but a real propitiatory sacrifice, which is repeated at every consecration of the wafer and the wine.
“And forasmuch as, pronounces the Council of Trent, in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the mass, that same Christ is contained and immolated in an unbloody manner who once offered himself in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross . . . For the victim is one and the same, the same now offering by the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross, the manner alone of offering being different. . . If any one saith, that the sacrifice of the mass is only a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; or, that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice. . . and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities: let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, The twenty-second session, Sept. 17, 1562).
The first part of John Paul’s statement above – “continually draws upon the mystery of Christ’s redemptive sacrifice” – does not conflict with the Bible. However, just because the Church “continually draws upon the…sacrifice” this does not mean that Jesus Christ is constantly sacrificed.
After quoting what he says is Hebrews 9:12, the Pope ends with “(cf. Heb 9:12).” “Cf’” means see/refer to/compare Hebrews 9:12. Let’s do so. Here is the complete verse of Hebrews 9:12 from the Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible translation (I underline the part of the verse that the Pope has asked us to compare with his):
“Neither by the blood of goats, or of calves, but by his own blood, entered ONCE into the holies, having obtained eternal redemption.”(My emphasis).
Here is the Pope’s rendition: Through the shedding of His own blood, Jesus Christ constantly “enters into God’s sanctuary thus obtaining eternal redemption” (cf. Heb 9:12).
John Paul replaces ‘entered once’ with ‘enters, and ends up with:
“(Jesus) constantly ‘enters entered once into God’s sanctuary thus obtaining eternal redemption’ (cf. Heb 9:12).’” John Paul changed “entered” to “enters,” to fit in with his “constantly.” Whether a Pope is interpreting ex cathedra (that is, by infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit) or in his personal capacity, the practical effect on many devout Roman Catholics is the same. If Christ is constantly sacrificed (for souls), it’s no big leap to imagine that He is constantly thirsting (for souls).
In the Gospel, Jesus never thirsts for souls. What Jesus does say in the Gospel is that “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14), and “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied Matthew, 5:6).
“On the last day of the feast, the greatest day, Jesus stood up and shouted out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Just as the scripture says, ‘From within him will flow rivers of living water.’” (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.) (John 7:37-39).
The follower of Christ will become a conduit for God’s living water to the thirsty. There is also that wonderful promise that awaits every child of God in the world to come:
“They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; 17 for the Lamb in the centre of the throne shall be their shepherd, and shall guide them to springs of the water of life; and God shall wipe every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:16-17).
So, is Jesus constantly thirsting, in any shape or form? Not at all. Surely.