07 October 2009

Living Water, A Story


For My people have committed two evils:

They have forsaken Me,

The fountain of living waters,

To hew for themselves cisterns,

Broken cisterns

That can hold no water.

~ Jeremiah 2:13

Some lives are so parched. Even the streams of tears they cry cannot relieve them of their weary dryness. They are thirsty... and they know they are. Some of them even know the Fountain of Living Waters. They know the One who can drench their soul to overflowing.

But... that is not where they go.

With cracked knuckles and gasps for relief, they dig in the dirt seeking their own source of water. Perhaps their pride prevents their bending of the knee to receive from Another. Perhaps their vision has become so clouded that they actually think they have found paradise, unaware that it is mere illusion, as they stumble through the sand towards empty promises, always just at the horizon. Perhaps they are simply too weary, and no longer wish to persevere, no longer want to wait upon the One whose timing is perfect, though rarely so in our eyes. Perhaps it is the worldy habits of coping with life, repeated over time, that automatically place them in familiar ruts of self-reliance or self-pity.

For whatever reason, they look everywhere, anywhere... except to the Living Water.

If anyone is thirsty
Let him come
to Me
and drink.
Like the Scripture says,
"Streams of living Water
will flow
out of the heart
of the one who believes in Me."
~ Jesus

Do we hear these words today? Are they too familiar and fall flat on our ears? Hear them again by imagining how they might have been heard for the first time...

At last it is here! The feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth)*. I so look forward to this annual holiday, for it is such a festival of joy before our God who blesses our crops, and our lives, with abundance. It is our family's favorite time of year! Parties, feasts, seeing old friends again who have traveled here to Jerusalem. It is a wonderful time of the year, especially today, the last great day of Sukkoth.

Impatient, we have been waiting, having tried to get here early because of the crowds, always looking for him to come. Shielding our eyes from the bright sun, we look. We wait.

"Where is he, Papa?" asks my son with large, expectant eyes. "I'm thirsty!"

"Soon, little one," I say, "He will not fail to come."

It was then the sound of tinkling first reaches my ears. That familiar tiny ringing as each small bell on every tassel of the high priest's robe accompanies his every step. It is like simple, holy music to us as we watch our mediator, our symbol of hope, make his way to the front porch of the temple. We strain to find a view of him above the heads of the people assembled... so very many people gathered in the heat of the day.

There he is. Alone. In his hand he holds the golden pitcher. It shines in the bright sunlight. Today, the pitcher will be our symbol of hope, even more so than the one holding it. As he holds it high, glistening, the crowd begins to sing the great hallelujah psalms. We join the throng, singing "Oh, Lord God Almighty, Who is like You? You are mighty, Oh Lord, and Your faithfulness surrounds You..." Our voices dance with the waving palm branches of the crowd. We feel the communion of community as we sing together and as the priest steps down into the throng.

He passes through all of us, like a boat parting the waters, as folks step aside to let him pass and then fall in behind as he leads us towards the pool of Siloam. We process, following the priest, the pitcher, down the street and the excitement is palpable. Still singing, some dancing, we follow the one who leads us.

"Faster, Papa!" my daughter yells, trying to be heard above the resounding voices.

At length, we arrive, a bit breathless from all the singing and dancing and walking on our journey, yet exhilarated. There it is. The pool at the end of the great tunnel Hezekiah had "sent" straight through the rock. We have made our way to this way, the way through the rock. Once again the hight priest lifts the pitcher aloft, but this time it descends to the refreshing pool, to be filled to the brim with water. Clear, cool water. With solemnity and humility, the empty pitcher is made full.

Back up the hill we climb as priest and people return to the temple. The dancing continues as the throng hurries breathlessly to its destination.

"Be careful not to lose sight of Caleb and Mirriam," my wife reminds me. My thoughts, however, are full of the moment. A small tear falls, unseen to the revelers, as I am full to the brim of thankfulness for all God has done and for what He shall do, according to His promise. I look with longing forward to the day when perhaps my children may behold His Messiah.

Thankful for all He has done. For all He will do. And what of this very day? For now, the symbols of the water, the pitcher, the priest... they suffice. Yet I am thirsty for more. For more today.

My thoughts are jerked to the present as I am buffeted by the crowd jostling around the temple court. A bit dizzy from the heat and exhilaration, I find that I and my family have managed to drift through the crowd to the front. In fact, we are so close that I could touch the priest--but of course, this is not allowed. So close. So far. Yet still yearning...

"Lift up thy hand!" The call of the assembly thunders and we throw down our celebratory palm branches. As the branches descend, the pitcher rises, glinting in the sunlight for all to see. The priest faces the west, sun burning upon his face, and pours out the water so that we might remember how our God gave our fathers water from the rock. Refreshment from the hard stone. Relief in weary wilderness. Remembering Jehovah's faithfulness of the past fuels our faith in Jehovah for the future.

Then the priest shouts the words of the prophet, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation!" A wave of excitement passes through the throng. Our hope for the future is renewed. Many echo the priest's words, some sing messianic Psalms. Others lift their hands and faces towards Heaven in prayer.

As for me, my thoughts surprise me, as they return to a yearning, not for the future, but for the present. Water, salvation, drink... for now. My wife sees my thoughtful look and discerns my inner thirst. I smile back at her and take her hand, reassuring her that all is well. I shall wait, as our many generations have waited. Had not my grandmother taught me from the prophet Isaiah? I remember the words...

"The afflicted and needy are seeking water, but there is none, and their tongue is parched with thirst; I, the LORD, will answer them Myself, as the God of Israel I will not forsake them...

They will not hunger or thirst, nor will the scorching heat or sun strike them down; for He who has compassion on them will lead them and will guide them to springs of water."

My thoughts are again interrupted by a voice behind me. It is loud, heard above the noise of the crowd. I strain, but can not see who is speaking, but I notice his northern accent. No, that voice is not one of someone I know. But the yearning behind the words catches my attention.

"If anyone is thirsty," He cries out, "let them come to Me now and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scriptures have said, 'streams of living water will flow from the innermost part of their heart.' "

An awkward hushing of the crowd ensues, followed by annoyed murmuring. Grumbles grow and I discern snatches of phrases bubbling up from the gurgling group of onlookers.

"He is the Prophet."
"No, He is the Christ."
"He's not from Bethlehem. He's from Galilee--hear his accent? Can't be the Promised One!"
"Is that Jesus, the one I've been hearing about?"
"What is he doing?! Somebody should stop him. He's ruining everything."

The crowd around me seems more like a mob as many accuse the man of blasphemy. The outrage has replaced the revelry. My eyes pass by the priest as I search the crowd for the one who had spoken of the living water. The priest seems indignant and hurries aside to do I know not what.

I just stand still, taking it all in. It is as if the surging crowd around me fades away and I am alone with my thoughts racing...

"Where is his water? And where is the rock that must be struck for the water to come, as it did with Moses? If he is a prophet, why doesn't the high priest acknowledge him? Wouldn't he know if the man were from God?"

I had hardly noticed that I had voiced all my questions out loud, and each word was weighed carefully by my listening wife.

"Yes, the high priest should know. All the Pharisees should know. But this Jesus seems to know at least one thing none of them do."

Intrigued, I asked, "What, dear one?"

"He seems to know how thirsty we truly are."

May we hear His words anew and drink of His Water continually.

* The Feast of Tabernacles (see Deut. 16:15) was later Americanized into Thanksgiving.

I am deeply indebted to Michael Card and his book, The Parable of Joy. The above is a re-telling, humbly edited and embellished, of a story he wrote in that book. His book is about the Gospel of John. This book is an amazing read as he fills the pages with Scripture, historical context, and wonderful stories that bring the events to life. It is one of my top ten favorite books and Michael's ministry in writing and music have had a huge influence on my life as I have sought to be Jesus' disciple.

Originally posted on 10.February.2009

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