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I Thirst: An Open Letter to Black Americans

Rebecca Elliott

“I can’t breathe…I can’t breathe”

Those were his last words and the world saw them spill from his lips as he exhaled his final breath. George Floyd was crying out for his mother. And he was murdered by white supremacy. Before him was Breonna Taylor, and before her, Ahmaud Arbery. India Beaty. Aiyana Stanley-Jones. Janisha Fonville. Jeremy Lake. Tamir Rice. Freddie Gray. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Trayvon Martin. Emmett Till and countless others. And before them all: Jesus of Nazareth: KING OF THE JEWS.

Our Lord

Matthew 19:28 reads: “…Jesus knowing that all things were accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst.” In this part of the life of Jesus, his story is coming to a close. He has now lived 33 years on earth. He has fed thousands and walked on water. He has healed the blind, lame, and demon-possessed. He has turned water to wine, calmed storming seas, forgiven sins, and raised dead men and children back to life.

Now he hangs, literally, between life and death. Jesus has been whipped, spat on, humiliated, and publicly lynched, for being everything God has created him to be. He will now die with his arms stretched wide, to embrace the sin that will consume him whole, and separate him from his heavenly father.

He is doing what must be done to save humanity. 2000+ years later, hundreds of millions of believers will shout for joy and weep in gratitude for what this moment means for our souls. Children will wear their “Sunday best,” fresh flowers will be placed on altars, and tender lambs will be placed on dinner tables and we will sing of the goodness and the justice that was served on that day. But now, it is not that day. It is ~2020 years from that day. Jesus is on the cross, and he thirsts.

Ever Thirsty

This open letter is for the Black believers who didn’t march. This is for the Black believers who didn’t share, or like, or comment, or repost. This is for the Black believers who still have to drive buses, deliver Amazon packages, punch train tickets, clean up a sick patient, raise children, and teach school lessons; to those who can no longer work, and still must provide food for their families and pay their rent on time; to those who have to be an essential worker and a parent; to those who have to love God and your neighbor. This open letter is for those who are Black in America and breathe.

You are doing your best but you are tired. You are emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually drained to the bone. That is what white supremacy does: it strips you of your joy, peace, self-worth, finances, family members, dignity, humanity, and spirit. It leaves you parched and weak. As our sin did to Jesus, it leaves us thirsty.

Hebrews 4:15 tells us: “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus understands the gut-wrenching thirst caused by sin. He understands what it is to face the consequences of hatred and hubris. He knows the double nature of man, who will praise your God-given abilities and use them for their own selfish consumption; then stand by passively as you are executed without cause.

He knows how it feels when people want your power, but not your pain. Jesus knows how it feels when those in authority see your very existence as a threat. He knows how it feels to be exactly the way God made you and be killed for it. He understands what it means to cry out “I thirst!” and be served vinegar by the same people who caused you the agony you are suffering.

In this life, as a believer, as a Black image-bearer of God, both in the U.S. and around the world, we thirst.

We thirst for an end to the stronghold of White superiority and for relief from the overwhelming yolk of racism we carry by our oppressors. We thirst for Black men and women to leave their homes and come back alive. We thirst for Black women’s mind, body, and soul to be respected as the God-fashioned creation that she is. We thirst for the redeemed innocence of Black children and for the dignity and recognition of our dark-skinned sisters and brothers. We thirst for a quenching of the rage and grief that live in our hearts. We thirst for the honor that has been denied to our ancestors, whose skills and brilliance built this nation and whose blood and song still cry out from its soil.

It is okay if you feel too tired to march and too weak to cry. It is okay if you feel too thirsty to fight because Jesus, who is God in the flesh, the Redeemer of mankind and King of the world—he got thirsty too.


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