Thirsty living

There was a time when our children were little where we discovered that any trip longer than 20 miles required a stop to get them a drink or food.  These small people seemed plagued with dehydration… we kept hearing “I’m thirsty…”  Somehow traveling made them thirsty.

Most of us have probably almost never have been so thirsty that we could feel it in our bones. But that kind of thirst was known and real especially to travelers in the ancient near east. The people of Israel traveled in the wilderness – a place with little water – and scripture records they were grouchy and quarreling and when Moses asks what the problem is… they say “We’re thirsty – did you bring us out here to have us die of thirst?

Moses appeals to God to assuage their thirst and end their grumbling and quarreling. One of my questions is why did the people of Israel take 40 years to enter the land of promise?  One thought I have had is that it took that length of time for a new generation to become the people of Israel – to forget the good old days in Egypt and be ready to live in the new land. The Israelites were taken out of Egypt, but Egypt could not be taken out of them. It took a long time for them to be ready for the promised future.

We do tend to forget the bad things and recall the good things of the past. A bishop in Albany, when I was seeking to move from being an assistant into my own parish, sent me to interview in a congregation where he had started out.  He spoke of it with such love and longing as the best days of his ministry. It was his wife who scared me. When she heard I was going there for an interview she warned me that that this was the parish where they had almost starved as the pay was so low, and the heat in the rectory was unreliable in the winter so she and the children were often cold and miserable. The Bishop had forgotten these things. We in the church often glorify the past by forgetting the challenges and hard times faced in that past.

As a group the people of Israel had to get to that point where they deeply desired – thirsted in their bones – for the land of promise. To become ready to inhabit it as the gift it was and not as a burden – to see what was good and life giving not stand around and talk wistfully of the way things were in Egypt. Even forgetting that in Egypt they had been slaves who cried out to God to be delivered from their slavery.

We are in our own wilderness seeking deliverance – getting bits of a vision of where God wants us to go but still clinging to what was rather than thirsting for what will be.

In the Gospel of John Jesus is traveling through Samaria. Jews and Samaritans were people who had been divided by a common faith. Their primary religious difference, created by political situations, was that Samaritans practiced their rituals on Mt Garazeme rather than the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is resting at the well while the apostles went into the village to purchase some food. As he rests at the well at mid-day a woman comes to the well to draw water.  Unusual for the women usually came to the well together early in the morning and at night when the temperature was cooler and there was safety in numbers. Jesus engages her in conversation by asking for a drink. This Jewish rabbi speaks to a woman to whom he was not related – who was a Samaritan. H broke several cultural mores in doing that… no wonder she is startled.

And they engage is this summary of a conversation contained in the Gospel of john. This conversation that was playing with words and meanings. Jesus knows this woman has deep hurts and deep longings. Jesus tries to get her to talk with him about it. But she keeps moving away from the conversation that is centered on her to talk about cultural norms, history and ritual. She thirsts but doesn’t want to talk about it – admit it – deal with it.

And Jesus keeps bringing the conversation back to her. She is almost pleading to be let out of this conversation as she begins to talk about the Messiah’s coming – almost as a futuristic fantasy. Jesus tells her the time for dealing with her life is now. In this sense the Messiah has already come as he comes for each of us when we can no longer postpone that most difficult of encounter – the encounter with ourselves. But that encounter brings the possibility of a new life

She not only has dealt with the truth, more importantly, she has been given a new center for her life , a new self-image and a new identity. Jesus has given her a way to get that for which she has thirsted so long. She came to the well to draw water and she leaves her water jar there and goes back to the village to talk to all these neighbors with whom she would not come and draw water. She has found the more precious living water that wells up to eternal life. Not only has she found it but is so excited that she wants to share it even with those who have troubled her about her past and present living arrangements. She goes from being a victim to being a herald of Good News. From recalling the good old days of her childhood and thirsting for the way it used to be – to seeing the possibilities of new life today, tomorrow, and into the future

Looking at this Gospel we need to question what are the conversations we are avoiding? What in our life is the messiah insisting that we open ourselves to healing? Healing that leads to choosing to walk into that new life. That new future where God is already standing beckoning for us to join him –  asking us to trust that the future, though it will not look like the past, will be that for which he have thirsted and which will well up for us in new life.

All that we risk is change. There is that old light bulb joke – How many Episcopalians does it take to change light bulb. Answer: NONE – change? change?…

For the people of Israel,

for all of Jesus friends and followers,

for the woman at the well

what they thirsted for became real in their life when they were willing to risk change…. am I ready to risk? Are you ready to risk it too? .. ?


About don

The Rev Don Hill is an Episcopal priest, rail fan and writer. He and his wife the Rev. Dr. Nancy Woodworth-Hill are currently Co-Pastors of St Paul's Episcopal Church, Jeffersonville IN, in the Diocese of Indianapolis. They also work as parish consultants in Appreciative Inquiry, strategic planning and spirituality development for parishes and vestries.
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