On that dreadful day close to 3pm, our Lord pushed up his sagging frame against the nails in his feet. He gathered his breath and cried out one last request, “I Thirst!”. Never before have two words been spoken with that level of consequential elegance and profound depth of meaning.
Yes, in a purely material and bodily way he asked for something to quench his thirst but in those words he also echoed the psalmist’s prophetic words …
”I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death”(Ps 22:14-15).
On a deeper level, he is making an appeal to the innate, universal human desire for justice and common empathy. To deprive a dying man of water when he is begging in agony ought to be thought of as the most despicable act of indifference, worse than hatred.
Even the Romans standing below him with hammers, swords, and lances. all instruments of human torture, were not that morally depraved. In response to Jesus’ last request they gave him a wet sponge to moisten his lips. It was not pure, untainted water and our Lord refused to drink it. "They gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink" (Matthew 27:34).
Water and Truth as a Universal Human Right
Last year when Pope Francis addressed the 2022 World Water Forum, he said, “The right to drinking water is closely linked to the right to life, which is rooted in the inalienable dignity of the human person and constitutes a condition for the exercise of other human rights.” The Holy Father went on to say, “Water is a gift from God and a common heritage that should be universally used for each generation.”
There is a type of water that is more vital to human life than H2o. There is the life-sustaining, pure, untainted water of truth for which we thirst and to which we have a right.
The Vatican II constitution on Divine Revelation, called Dei Verbum, uses the analogy of water to describe the Truth we receive from God. It says that both Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition “flow from the same divine wellspring” . The word wellspring means both ‘an abundant source’ and ‘a source of pure, drinking water taken from the ground or a spring’. Dei Verbum goes on to highlight the purity of this flowing water. The Deposit of Faith is to be handed on by the magisterium ”...to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known”.
In his first letter to Timothy, after St. Paul asked Timothy to provide the ‘nourishment of sound teaching’, he gave him one final warning, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you”. Other translations read, “guard the deposit of faith”. The ‘Deposit of Faith’ is a catechetical term meaning, ‘the body of revealed truth in the scriptures and sacred tradition proposed by the Roman Catholic Church for the belief of the faithful’.
Like water for our bodies this spiritual water is also a universal human right. Pope John Paul II wrote, “the person who becomes a disciple of Christ has the right to receive ‘the word of faith’ not in mutilated, falsified or diminished form but whole and entire, in all its rigor and vigor. Unfaithfulness on some point to the integrity of the message means a dangerous weakening of catechesis and putting at risk the results that Christ and the ecclesial community have a right to expect from it” .The doctrinal water that Christ gave must be preserved and handed on, pure and potable, with nothing added or taken away.
The Refrigerator Analogy
We learn from Jesus that it is nor only acceptable but wise to use metaphors, analogies and allegory that incorporate everyday life. For Jesus, everyday life was agrarian centering around crops, animals, grain, wheat, weeds, rocks, seeds and sowers. These were used to make a deeper moral point or allegorical connection teaching about the Kingdom of God.
For our times a refrigerator could be used as an analogy for the role of the Church in handing on the Deposit of Faith. Since water signifies the Deposit of Faith, the water line connected to the refrigerator would be Jesus as the Word of God and source of Divine Revelation. I’m thinking about a refrigerator that dispenses ice and water from the outside of the door. If the Church were the refrigerator, ice would be Scripture and water would be Tradition. Ice being more solid and water more fluid but both are H2o. The refrigerator powered by electricity would signify the power of the Holy Spirit animating the Church. Without the constant guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Church would not have life and the Magisterium would not be deemed credible. There would not be ice since the motor would not be activated. To take the analogy to the next step, we could consider water vapor sometimes visible when we open the freezer, as the ongoing infallible teaching of the Church.
This also works as an analogy for the Catholic Church as the single, authoritative source of both Scripture and Tradition. Christianity got the Bible and the Creeds from the Church not the other way around. This is why the Bible calls the Church ‘the pillar and foundation of truth’.
Next time you say to yourself, “I thirst!”, think of the church as you fill your glass with ice and pure, untainted drinking water. Think of Jesus who said, “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life”.
In these uncertain times, we pray that the Church will always be empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit to viligantly guard and faithfully dispense the life-giving waters of doctrinal truth. We, like Jesus, reject false teachings or any heretical concoction of wine mixed with gall. We insist on our right to receive the truth.