In general I have very little knowledge about the readers of these columns.
But I know this, you live close to a river!
Some of you living by estuaries, deltas, or in forests or mountain slopes, will nod and say, “that’s not exactly a startling deduction”, but some of you may be living in a city or in the desert. So how can I assert that you are living close to a river?
The river may be under your feet in one of the great underground aquifers and deep wells have been drilled to bring the water for your convenience. It may be that the river has been blocked to form a lake or reservoir and a system of channels, canals, tunnels and pipes brings the river into your very own living space.
One of the great achievements of the Roman Empire was their engineering ability to bring the river to their populations. Their staggeringly efficient aqueducts stand in witness of superb form and function. I find it interesting that when later civilizations plundered Roman buildings for materials to build their own architecture, they always left the aqueducts untouched.
It is not necessary to have a biological education to know that life doesn’t exist without water. Drinking water is not only habit-forming, if you stop doing so the withdrawal symptoms are pretty drastic! The only other fluid so extreme in its absence is the air we breathe. Water lies at the very base of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.
For all of mankind’s existence, access to water has been a prime motivation in daily life. We in first-world countries are so blessed to have clean water available that we have become blasé about its importance. We regard it as quotidian and even boring to the point that we add flavors and bubbles and minerals, but the truth is, without the combination of two hydrogens with an oxygen, nothing in our lives would be of any importance at all. For people down through the centuries water was life and its absence was death itself.
It’s not surprising then that in my study of the startling and revolutionary things that Jesus said we find that water and rivers make an appearance.
Many of you will know of the incident recorded in John 4:4-14 in the Samaritan village of Sychar as Jesus was returning to Galilee from Jerusalem: (quotations from New Living Translation - NLT)
He had to go through Samaria on the way. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.
The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”
Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
The number of things “wrong” with this story are numerous.
Jesus was in a place he should not be, talking face-to-face with a woman he should shun, putting them both in a compromising position. This was exactly the sort of encounter that would give the Pharisees and Scribes ample ammunition to discredit him in their view of qualification for messiahship.
But this lost person was of more importance to Jesus than his reputation and as a result we come to know of Jesus as living water. If thirst is a symptom of needing life, water that imparts life without end must be eternal in its function.
I wrote in an earlier column of the festival that Jesus’ disciples wanted him to go to and show off with some spectacular miracles, but Jesus told them that the timing was all wrong. However if you read on you will find that Jesus did eventually show up toward the end of the festival in the courtyards of the Temple, not to do magic tricks, but to teach. Here is a teaching that stood out for me:
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified. On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.” Others said, “He is the Messiah.” John 7:37-41 [emphasis mine]
You will note that this is no whispered secret. Jesus uses his outside voice to let anyone within earshot know that belief in him carries the benefit of living water. And not just a drop, or a trickle, but literally rivers of living water flowing in them and from them. If the water flows from them and puddles around others, those others will get wet too.
We don’t know who the writer of this hymn was, but we certainly know from where the inspiration came!
I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me; It makes the lame to walk and the blind to see. It opens prison doors, sets the captives free. I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me.
Spring up, O well, within my spirit! Rise up and tell, so all can hear it! Spring up, O well, so I experience That life abundantly.
I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me; It started gushing up when God set me free. That I keep the flow is my only plea. I’ve got a river of life springing up in me.
Once I call His name there’s a flow within; It turns me from my day, makes Him Lord again. As my spirit burns, Satan cannot win. Calling, “Oh Lord Jesus,” keeps the flow within.
I would venture that some of us are just moist in our belief, some are sweating, some are dripping, some spraying and some are gushing with the water of life.
Let’s drench our neighbors!
Blessings on you and yours, Jim Black
P.S. if you’d like to read previous ruminations of mine they can be found at https://www.salvationarmyconcordca.org/chronicle/?category=Bible%20Study