Text: John 4: 13-14
13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
I have a couple of observations and questions regarding this text, which will not surprise any of you who have been around for awhile. My first observation is this idea of never having thirst again reminds me of the 23rd Psalm which opens with the words “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. I see a great similarity between the ideas of never thirsting and the not wanting, in my mind they are nearly identical, one in the same.
My question with the text has to do with how the author of John has chosen to interpret the idea of never thirsting again. The second part of verse 14 says that the water will become a spring gushing up to eternal life. What does that mean? How is that helpful? Does that mean we have to wait around for 20 or 30 years or however long it takes until we finally die, and then we experience eternal life and then we can make full sense of what it means to never thirst? If that is what it means, then I’m not really interested-I think most of us want something that is helpful today, right now, to give us guidance and encouragement in this moment. We want something that will satisfy our thirst right now.
If we continue our analogy for a minute with the 23rd Psalm, it seems that the Psalm does a pretty good job of giving us comfort in the here and now – not the theoretical someday of eternal life. In the Psalm we are led by still waters, which I think speaks to anxiety, and we lie down in green pastures, which I could interpret as peace and rest. The Psalm states that our souls are restored; we are renewed, refreshed, and encouraged – ready to take on the next challenge. These are all very practical, in the now, kinds of examples of the way that the Lord as our shepherd keeps us from wanting.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus is reported to have said that the water he offers will enable us to never thirst again; as long as we are willing to wait for eternal life. That’s nonsense. We want our thirst to be quenched in the now, today-it is today that we experience the downfalls and challenges of life; it is today that we are thirsty; it is today that we need the help. This reference to eternal life puts that help that we seek for ourselves into the future, into some theoretical and hypothetical context of something that we don’t fully understand and never will concerning what happens after we die. I don’t find that to be particularly helpful.
This gap between the practical and the theoretical reminds me of a story. It seems that Sherlock Holmes and his faithful partner Watson were out camping and after a nice evening meal and swapping stories around the campfire Holmes and Watson retired for the night into their tent. In the wee hours of the morning Holmes wakes up and proceeds to wake up Watson and tells him to look up. “What do you see?” asks Sherlock and Watson replies “I see millions and millions of stars”. “What does that tell you?” Holmes continues to question, and Watson replies; “well, as a mathematician it tells me the sheer number of stars is incalculable and the millions of galaxies and the distances involved are difficult to comprehend, and as a theologian it tells me that the creator of this vast universe is beyond our imaginations and understanding and that we as humans are small and insignificant. As an astronomer, I can see the rotation of the earth has caused the locations of some of the planets and the constellations to change, and judging by the current location of those planets and constellations, I can deduce that it is approximately 3 AM and as a meteorologist I can see that it is an extremely clear night which means we are under the influence of some high pressure and the chances are excellent we will have a nice day tomorrow”. Then Watson asks Sherlock Holmes, “what do you see when you look at the stars?” To which Holmes replies, “I see that someone has stolen our tent.”
So there is the practical and then there is the theoretical and the hypothetical. When it comes to the teachings of Jesus, if he said that the water which he offers will enable us to never thirst again, I would prefer to take that in the practical rather than the theoretical. I would rather not thirst right now rather than to have to wait for eternal life. In other words, I like the first part of this scripture, but then I honestly think the author of John got it wrong. Jesus intends for us to not thirst in the here and now; of course we will no longer thirst in eternal life that seems obvious, where is the good news in that? I want to know what to do about the thirst I experience today.
Let me see if I can explain. I think the best answer to thirst begins with full acceptance of what is. There is recognition of the way things are and our inability to control most things that can only lead to full acceptance of what is. As long as we resist what is, as long as we fight against what is or feel like the current situation isn’t right or correct or fair, we will thirst. If we can learn to let go of that need or desire to be in control and accept what is, then we can experience full peace and never thirst again.
This is not easy. At some point in our lives we are all likely to be in a situation where we begin to think the world revolves around us; we begin to be a little self-centered and feel like perhaps life isn’t fair and we deserve better than what we have.
Some of you may know something about my past and how I got caught by the system and spent some time in-between churches, spent some time unemployed and more time under employed. We struggled financially, we moved in with one of our children, we couldn’t always pay our bills on time, it didn’t seem fair and it seemed like we deserved better than this. But it was also reality and I didn’t have a lot of control. This experience continues to shape my attitudes and disposition today.
When we are tempted to be self-centered, when we are tempted to think we deserve better; what does Jesus say? Jesus said to put others first, he said that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. He said to love others in the way that you would want to be loved, he said if we are to ever find ourselves, we must first lose ourselves. We must accept what is, and go from there, and then we will never thirst again.
A couple of days ago I was in Winco with a few groceries and went to pay the bill with my debit card and it was declined. Don’t you just love it when that happens? We tried the card again, but with the same result and it seemed clear something was not right. The next morning when the bank opened it became clearer that there was suspicious activity on that card and Visa had cancelled it. I had seen on our account the night before a charge for $115 that I had not made, so I knew something was going on. For a few moments I bitterly resisted what was happening; I was thirsty for revenge, I was thirsty to get my $115 returned to me, I was thirsty for the authorities to catch these low lives and throw their collective posteriors in jail. I was thirsty.
But what does Jesus say? Jesus says to let go of anger, to forgive everyone, to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute you. Jesus said to turn the other cheek and walk the extra mile and that our true treasure is in the heart and not in the bank.
With that in mind, I tried to accept what is, and remembered those things that Jesus had taught; I said a prayer for those who must be so desperate they can only steal from others and my thirst diminished.
I was watching the news the other night and it seems like the presidential campaign season is about to get underway and it seems like we just went through all that. I began to think how divided we seem to be and how frustrated I am with our division, I thought about how so many people seem to chase power and status. I thought about how tempted we are to think in terms of us versus them, to act tribally and create groups of who is in and who is out so that we can feel self-righteous or more superior than the other group. As I thought about all these things I became thirsty once again. I thirsted for cooperation, I thirsted for understanding, I thirsted for more people to see things my way, I thirsted that others might find the same level of wisdom that I obviously have found. I was thirsty.
Then I tried to remember what Jesus said about this behavior. That Jesus told us to not judge one another so that we might not be judged ourselves by the same measure. Jesus told us we might want to think twice before casting that first stone and Jesus tells us to not worry about social status but to meet people where they are, even if it means eating with tax collectors, healing the leper or showing compassion to the prostitute. I tried to remember these things, I accepted what is, and my thirst diminished.
I believe we can experience the thirst quenching water that Jesus offers each and every day if we only will. It requires of us a greater understanding of who we are, who the other may be and how we can apply the teachings of Jesus to our situation right now. It also requires of us an understanding that what is, is not likely to change anytime soon and we may have very little control over our current situation. What we can control is how we will react and respond to each and every circumstance. It is in that response that determines whether or not we will continue to be thirsty.
Control your response. Control your reaction. Accept what is. Practice what Jesus taught and you may never be thirsty again.
Go in peace, go with God and go and thirst no more. Amen.