For Living Water

Thirst. Have you ever been really thirsty? Have you been so thirsty you thought you would faint or die? Have you ever had really good clean water, water that is sweet to the taste? That not only quenches your thirst but fills you up?

To understand the elemental beauty of this passage you have to have some experience of what it means to be empty and filled up to understand why Jesus is using the language of water to talk about the Holy Spirit. Yes, at first this Holy Spirit may come like a mighty wind or a fire of dancing tongues. Yes, it will shake you to your core. But to sustain you, your core needs water---ocean water from God’s depths, the water of the womb, the water that comes out of rocks for your desert times. You need rivers of clean living water and you need lots of it to get you through day after day or during these bone dry days of endless wars.

As Eugene Petersen says in the Message about being filled with the Spirit, “Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me…”

Don’t we all want this? To be filled to brimming and spilling?

But lest we think water is just a good metaphor, we are reminded it essential to sustain our lives. God knew this when he provided a well for Hagar and Ishmael in the desert.

Jesus knew this when he went to that well and asked that foreign woman, that Samaritan woman, for a drink. That scandalous conversation between Jesus and her ended with Jesus telling her that the gift of God is “living water.” But let us not forget that their exchange began with her providing a drink to the thirsty Jesus. The human Jesus thirsts; the divine Jesus becomes “living water.”

Water is the essence of life, which is why it marks the sacred source of our spiritual life in the sacrament of baptism. It signifies the depth of life and our calling to cosmic transfiguration. You are baptized in memory of both the waters of creation and the Jordan River.

John baptized Jesus in this holy river so God could purify him for the mission ahead, so the world would know that Jesus was indeed the Beloved Son. Later, in our sacred story, Jesus bathed his disciple’s feet in water to demonstrate how they were to become faithful servants capable of giving and receiving. Later the crucified Christ cried out, “I thirst.” Water is a reoccurring experience and metaphor throughout our sacred texts.

Water is sacred. It is essential and it is in danger. It is being polluted and killed. It is also a basic human need given by God to all of humanity to share equitably. No single country or community has the right to appropriate and monopolize water; to own it or sell it for profit or to control the lives of another people by using it as a weapon.

Yet this is what is happening in Palestine today. Water is confiscated through land theft and the destruction of wells. It is being diverted to support life for some and not for others. It is being polluted by sewage from either illegal settlements or water networks too old and broken to filter clean water. It is even being rationed, less than 100 liters per day in Gaza, compared to over 300 liters in Israel. Sometimes, like during last year’s Ramadan, it was simply cut off.

This is why people say that the Palestinian water crisis is both a symptom of the Israeli military occupation and a tool to maintain it. Some call what is happening Water Apartheid.

A few weeks ago in Gaza, Gaza’s only functioning power plant was shut down so it wasn’t able to run water and sanitation facilities. It put the already vulnerable and disease threatened population at even greater risk for disease.

  • Did you know for example that kidney problems go up 13 to 14 percent a year due to the in gestation of untreated water or water with too much saline? 
  • Did you know that very few people swim in the Mediterranean off the coast of Gaza because it is full of sewage?
  • Did you know that 95% of the water that Palestinians in Gaza have been consuming for decades has been proven unfit for human consumption[2].
  • Did you know that Gaza will be uninhabitable by 2020 because there will be no clean water?

Israel’s 11 year old blockade on Gaza has made water a tool of coercion and control to achieve occupation’s goals. This is why in all military operations Israel destroys the water resources or bombs the power plants. This is in addition to diverting the water from the Hebron mountains to feed Israeli or settler only wells.

The Ecumenical Water Network of the World Council of Churches notes that in Palestine the value of human life is undermined by Israel’s intentional targeting of civilians through the deprivation of water. They assert, therefore, that the global church must defend water as a non-negotiable human right. It is God’s gift for all to share. No one can deprive others access to a fair share or pollute or abuse the sanctity of this basic right.

In Nan Merrill’s translation of Psalm 104, our psalm today, you hear the echo of this in these words:

You created springs to flow into the
valleys;
they flow between the hills
Giving drink to every creature of
the field
quenching their thirst as your
Living Water quenches ours…

The Alliance for Water Justice in Palestine, an advocacy organization in Boston, echoes the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Water Network by raising awareness about Israel’s use of water as a weapon against the people of Palestine. Its four main principles are: water is a human right; water should not be privatized; water should not be used as an instrument of oppression; and water should be equally distributed.

While raising awareness is their primary focus, they also oppose efforts to promote Israeli water companies internationally so long as their technologies are used to oppress Palestinian people. This is why they have led a campaign against Mekorot, the Israeli public water company, which has cooperation agreements with countries around the world. Mekorot has consistently violated all four principles and yet is now exporting their water technologically with cooperative agreements around the globe including many communities in the United States.

Water is sacred. It is a human right. The Jordan River is but a mere creek now because the streams that feed it are being diverted by Israel, Jordan, and Syria. The lower Jordan Valley has been destroyed because 96% of its historic river flow has been diverted. Wetlands are drying up and biodiversity is being lost.  Jordan’s River is no longer “deep and wide.”

From its source in the foothills of Mount Hermon to the Jordan River into the Sea of Galilee and then into the Jordan Valley, life was created and sustained for centuries. This green corridor of life was fed by living waters. These living waters are now diverted and dying.

To celebrate the Holy Spirit as living water requires us to act on our baptismal vow to resist evil. We must thirst for water and justice. Our water baptism commits us to join others in protecting all our waters from the Jordan River to Standing Rock, from Gaza to Flint, Michigan. All our waters are sacred and need our protection.

Come and drink the living water
taste its cool sweetness.
Fill yourselves with God’s Spirit.
Let it brim and spill out of you
so you can be cups
of blessings for each other.

Loren McGrail serves with the YWCA of Palestine. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples Mission Fund, Our Church’s Wider Mission, and your special gifts.


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