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Sacred Water and a Thirsty Christ

“The Gods must be furious. It’s the only explanation that makes sense to Jia Son, a Tibetan farmer surveying the catastrophe unfolding above his village in China’s mountainous Yunnan Province. ‘We’ve upset the natural order,’ the devout 52-year-old Buddhist says. ‘And now the gods are punishing us.’” So begins the National Geographic article “The Big Melt” in a special April 2010 issue on “Water: Our Thirsty World.”

And the farmer confesses that the melting ice may be his fault. When the glacier began releasing some of its water earlier in the year, the villagers had the luxury of two harvests a year. Tourists came, too, to visit the glacier, and turned his village into one of the region’s wealthiest.

“Jia Son makes a point of telling visitors about the glacier’s spiritual significance. ‘Nothing will get better,’ he says, ‘until we get rid of our materialistic thinking.’”

As we turn our attention this week to “The Water of Life,” it is important to remember that Christians are not the only ones who find spiritual significance in water. To the Hindus, the Ganges is one of seven principle sacred rivers. In Jewish tradition, a body of water used for spiritual cleansing is called a mikvah. Mohammad told followers, “Cleanliness is half of faith.” Water nourishes many a faith.

And so it is noteworthy that our lesson takes us to Jacob’s Well to recount the story of the Samaritan Woman and Jesus. While the Samaritans and the Jews shared Jacob as an ancestor and thus the water in this well, they did not get along. Their disagreement was a religious one that dated back to the days of Ezra and the building of the temple in Jerusalem from which the Samaritans had been excluded.

That is why the request for water that Jesus makes of the Samaritan woman is such a surprise to her. Jews did not talk to Samaritans. Their exchange proceeds with further surprises and intrigue: His offer of living water, His knowledge of her marital history, His suggestion that it is not where you worship that matters.

She is a quick to grasp the significance of what Jesus tells her, and who He is. The implication of meeting the long-awaited Messiah makes her forget about drawing water. She drops her water pot and runs back to her village to share the good news.

And in her quick comprehension and her immediate response to share it, Jesus, too, is refreshed. Ellen White tells us that, “Our Redeemer thirsts for recognition. He hungers for the sympathy and love of those whom He has purchased with His own blood” (Desire of Ages, p. 190).

Jesus’ day had begun with the realization that the Pharisees were keeping score in a baptismal race that they perceived between His cousin John and Himself. It wore Him out, so He left Judea and was on His way back to Galilee when He stopped at Jacob’s well.

Even His disciples did not understand why He was talking with the Samaritan. How refreshing it was for Jesus to find someone who grasped so quickly the significance of what He was about. So He stayed in Samaria for two days.

“The Pharisees despised the simplicity of Jesus. They ignored His miracles, and demanded a sign that He was the Son of God. But the Samaritans asked no sign, and Jesus performed no miracles among them, save in revealing the secrets of her life to the woman at the well. Yet many received Him”, Ellen White says (Desire of Ages, p. 192).

This is the point in Jesus’ ministry where He began to break down the wall separating Jew and Gentile, and to preach salvation to the world. And that is the point of living water.

“He who drinks of the living water becomes a fountain of life. The receiver becomes a giver. The grace of Christ in the soul is like a spring in the desert, welling up to refresh all, and making those who are ready to perish eager to drink of the water of life.” (Desire of Ages, p. 195)

* * *

And what about the ordinary water that sustains life on earth—as Barbara Kingsolver calls it—the pounding circulatory system of the world?

Do we have the ears to listen, as the earth itself seems to be raising its voice? “Nearly 70 percent of the world’s fresh water is locked in ice. Most of the rest is in aquifers that we’re draining much more quickly than the natural recharge rate. Two-thirds of our water is used to grow food. With 83 million more people on earth each year, water demand will keep going up unless we change how we use it,” the National Geographic reports.

Would that we would catch this message quickly, too, as the Samaritan woman quickly perceived Christ’s message, so that we can respond in a way to warm the heart of the Creator God.

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