I think by now I already realized that the victim on the Cross was no man at all, but that he was a god in a man's body. No man could have acted as he had. I remembered the calmness with which he had faced this vile death; I remembered the quiet consideration for those involved in his execution, first ourselves the soldiers, then that robber rogue beside him, then his mother, and then again his God. Truth to tell, I believe that I was just about losing sympathy then. He had been as collected and deliberate as a man on his deathbed making the testamentary dispositions in his will, and it just couldn't be possible that one suffering all the agonies of crucifixion could be equally undisturbed. It was nothing new to us from Rome for the gods to walk about this earth as men; our poets were always telling us of times when it had occurred, and, of course, because they weren't subject to the limitations of ordinary mortals they always got the better of those they came up against. I began to think that this was what was happening on that central Cross. Somebody supernatural, somebody from Olympus, was hanging there, and because he was a god and not a man he was really immune to all the pain and suffering of humanity. He was playing a part; it was a bit of wonderful acting, but very likely he was secretly laughing at us for being such `mugs.'
Some thoughts such as these were passing through my mind when quite unexpectedly out of the darkness came that voice. It was hardly recognizable. It was obviously wrung out of a body racked with pain. It came from between parched lips and from a swollen tongue. It was a cry out of the heart of physical anguish and distress-just the two words: `I thirst.'
I find it hard to put into words the effect they had on me. I felt somehow like shouting for joy, because in them My embryonic faith was vindicated. I had come to admire my prisoner these past hours arid had begun to feel he was the bravest chap I had ever come across-so brave indeed that I was well-nigh convinced that the cause for which he was dying must be worth dying for. But then had followed the horrible suspicion that one of the gods was making sport with us, and that here was a god we couldn't touch who had dressed himself in a man's body. Now all those suspicions had been swept away by the cry: `I thirst.' He was a man all right; he might indeed be more than a man, but that didn't concern me at the moment. I was quite certain now that the man who was hanging on that Cross was a man like to me. He was a man of flesh and blood. He was a man subject to the same limitations as myself: God he might be, but he was God made flesh and as a man he felt as I did, hunger, pain, sorrow, loneliness - yes, and joy and good fellowship too, I surmised and, as I knew, thirst.
I don't think I have ever felt more proud of being human than at that moment when that man on his cross revealed beyond doubt and question his full humanity. In the years that have followed since that black, black Friday, which now we call Good Friday, again and again I have found life bearable, I have been able to conquer in its sufferings and sorrows, because I realize that the Christ whom I now worship has shared my pain, and, as I believe, still shares it. We have not one who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities but who was in all points tested like as we are. I would never have put my faith in the Son of God if I had not known he was also Son of Man.
`I thirst,' he whispered. How glad I was to give the order to offer him drink. I saw clearly at that moment my duty to help those in distress. I learnt later that he had once said that whoever gave a cup of cold water in his name would not lose his reward. I've more than had mine. And since that day I have seen him in every beggar who holds out an emaciated arm asking for charity, I have seen him suffering on battlefields, I have seen him in the piteous faces of little children cruelly treated, I have seen him in the despair of homeless refugees, I have seen him in the starved bodies of the thousands still undernourished in God's world, and I know that it is my duty and privilege to try and supply what is required. There have been times when I have wanted to turn away from misery and suffering. After all there is so much of it and there is so little I can do, but even as I have turned to go I have heard in my ears the little words: `I thirst,' and I cannot turn away. It may well be, as others have told me, that these words are to be interpreted spiritually. And indeed why not? But this is the secondary meaning. The words must not be spiritualized until we have dealt with them severely practically. hear these words
None of us can stand or sit by the Cross and hear and not do all in our power in the use of our ability and resources to stem the flood of human misery. Maybe this is the place where real religion can best be seen, for did he not say: `Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me'?
So I learnt then, first, that he has shared our pain and, secondly, that we are serving him when we seek to relieve pain. But there were other things I learnt. There was no apology in his cry for water. He gave no sense that it was a concession to human frailty and weakness. I am in fact sure it was not. He had disposed of what remained for what remained for him to do, he had provided for those around him, and nowquite naturally and practically he showed his concern for himself and for his own physical needs. I can understand Paul the Apostle reminding us, challenging us; `What, know ye not that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit? and that therefore our bodies have to receive proper attention. We in Syria find already all sorts of queer people who claim to be servants of the Cross, who either indulge their body in its every whim and animal impulse or, alternatively, regard it as a prison cage for their pure souls and treat it shamefully and with disrespect. There is no innate virtue in disease or in disregard of the proper care and consideration of our bodies. Our religion does not mean that we play fast and loose with the laws of medicine and hygiene. It is our duty to keep fit and healthy (as fit and healthy as we can) in terms of food and air and exercise for God's service. Of course I know the other extreme too: those who are so concerned about their 'bodily` state that they are everlastingly fussing about themselves trying first this doctor then that, trying now this patent medicine then that, and who can do no useful work for God or for society because they are so wrapped up in themselves and their precious feelings and their common ailments.
I have tried to live in proper balance since I stood by the Cross, and when in any doubt I always recall that Jesus refused any personal easement or comfort (such as that first drink he accepted) until he was certain that he had done all that had to be done. When he had looked for and provided for others, then and not till then did he think of himself.He didn't neglect himself, but he put things in the right order. Do we?
FOR THE READER' MEDITATION
I. Do I let him share my Pain?
2. What do I do for those in need?
3. What is my attitude to my duty?