It was one of those blisteringly hot days back in July. The previous day had been Independence Day, though we had started work earlier than usual, we still only worked a half day. I didn’t particularly like being denied a half day’s wage because of some silly nationalistic holiday, so I was determined to earn it back by working an hour longer each day for the rest of week.
At the golf course nestled in the narrow valley, I worked as simple laborer on the grounds crew. Because I had started later in the summer than the rest of guys, I didn’t have the skills of my peers, and I was given the most manual labor. In this case it was removal of nine months’ worth of compacted leaves on acres of flowerbeds. That involved going between a leafblower and a rake and flat shovel. Usually working in pairs, we would load up the big Chevy pick-up with leaves, dump it behind number 13 tee, and repeat. It was good “honest” work.
On this hot day, I was working alone. I was in the shade, and I thought that I was keeping well hydrated. I don’t know if I just didn’t drink enough water or if the extra hour in the dust put me over the edge. I was feeling extra tired and a little dizzy when I got home that day, and I just went to bed and tried to drink as much water as possible. The next morning I got up at 4 AM as usual, tried to eat some breakfast, and nearly vomited. Something was wrong with my body.
Up on the cross Jesus was thirsty too. He’d already lost a lot blood from the flogging, and the physical exertion is more than I can imagine. I feel that we talk a lot about Jesus’ perseverance in the church, as we should, but then we use it affirm to our “Protestant work ethic” as well. However, in Jesus’ admission of thirst, I see the embrace of human frailty, our bond to the physical and physiological. Jesus didn’t keep a stiff upper lip. Jesus didn’t try to show up the other guys hanging with him. Jesus took the path of humility, recognizing his humanity when he was so close to the revelation of his greatest divine glory.
This is the Jesus I know. Born to poor, refugee parents, raised in a marginalized and oppressed culture, working as a tradesman and a teacher, then persecuted for political agitation. Jesus loved. Jesus wept. Jesus ate and drank, so that means that he also peed and pooped. Jesus was human just like you and me.
I missed two days of work that July due to heat exhaustion, and it wasn’t for some grand cause. I was constantly thirsty for those two days because I tried to deny my humanity. I thought that I could justify myself through my work. That’s not the path of the cross, not the path of Christ. Today as we remember Christ’s divine nature, may we also remember his human nature. Today as we remember our liberation from thirst, may we also remember our liberation to thirst.