We continue on our 40-day Lenten journey where, just like Jesus, we are confronting our greatest temptations and trying to identify things in our lives that we need to give up because they hinder us from fully following Jesus. So far we’ve learned three. We are called to give up anger and bitterness and grow in forgiveness; to give up judgment and grow in grace and acceptance; to give up apathy and grow in compassion.
Up to this point in the crucifixion story, Jesus has been composed and collected, all things considered. I mean, given what’s been done to him, he has remained poised, calm enough to dish out words of wisdom that were nothing less than divine. He was issuing forgiveness. He was promising new life. He was calmly making sure his loved ones will be taken care of.
And even in his trial, he was composed, speaking in short, one-liners that were full of wisdom and meaning. He never said a word of complaint about his ordeal. He was just so regal, so poised, so Godly, so like Jesus!
Most of the crowd had already gone home. There was nothing left to watch. Death did not come quick to those being crucified. Sometimes they were left hanging for days until they die of asphyxiation. Other times their legs were broken so that they lose their leverage for breathing and die quicker. It was something the general public did not want to lay around and witness.
It was also midday and yet a stark and gloomy darkness covered the whole land. It was strangely dark. No sense lingering outdoors.
Those who lingered were those who were in charge of the crucifixion, for it was their responsibility to see it through, and those who really wanted Jesus dead- hardliners who continued mocking him and savoring their victory over this troublemaker. Perhaps a few of those who followed Jesus stayed. But they stood at a safe distance, crying.
At that point, apart from the physical pain of dying, the cross was a lonely place to be. So Jesus cries out: “Eli, Eli lema sabachthani!” Sabaq is Aramaic for allow, or permit; T means you; and Ani means me.
My God, My God why have you allowed this to happen to me?! If you think Jesus did not feel a thing, think again. He felt the pain. He felt it all!
And then he cries out again. “I am thirsty!” (John 19:28, NRSV)
He had lost so much body fluids through sweat and blood. The last drink he must have had was from the night before during the last supper. He had carried the cross a long ways. He had been hanging on it for six hours now. Of course he was thirsty. He was dehydrated.
Dehydration. First it gives you a fever and chills. Then it gives you a throbbing headache. Then cramps in your abdomen. Then nausea. Then your eyeballs dry up in the sockets. So does your lips. Your tongue and vocal chords swell up and your throat feels like sand paper. In the end you can barely whisper. It didn’t sound human; it sounded more like an animal croaking, "I am thirsty."
It showed the reality and intensity of his physical suffering. I thirst. I am extremely dehydrated. I am bleeding. I am suffering. I am dying.
Can you see what was happening here? Jesus was crying for help! Jesus acknowledged the pain. “Oh, God, help me. Somebody, anybody, help me!”
That just bursts our bubble, doesn’t it. Calm, dignified, godly Jesus suddenly breaks down and cries. He finally breaks. This isn’t the Jesus we want. This isn’t the Jesus we know. But it is the Jesus we get today. A Jesus who gives up pride and says, “I don’t think I can do it anymore. I need help. God, help me. Somebody, please, help me.”
This Lent, God is calling us to give up pride. To give up pride and ask for help. To give up pride, accept you are wrong and ask for forgiveness. To give up pride, accept failure and start anew. To give up pride for the sake of reconciliation or the greater good or for the sake of life.
I've been saying: Lent is serious soul work. Its not a mere sentimental journey revisiting Jesus’ suffering and death. It is preparing ourselves to truly live. In order for Easter to happen, in order for new life to happen, something has to die. We are to "die to ourselves so that Christ may live in us." We are to give things up so that we may learn how to truly live.
Perhaps pride is the only barrier between us and the life God intends for us to enjoy. And so more than just chocolate, may we give up pride, and grow in humility.
Your fellow disciple,