For March 19. Ex.17:1-7, Psalm 95, Romans 5:1-11, John 4:5-42
Have you ever experienced desperate thirst? The kind that had you seriously considering dirty puddles or saltwater as a place to dip your cup?
Last summer, my husband and son hiked to the top of Mt. Rundle with my brother and his son. It was a strenuous, long hike and the day was hot and dust dry. Their water bottles proved vastly inadequate, making the last half of their day tortuous. Had anything gone wrong, if they had made an incorrect turn or someone had gotten hurt, they would have been in trouble. As it was, the mild dehydration (headaches, dry mouth, dizziness, and tiredness) were easily remedied once they returned to the car.
The experience left them with a visceral understanding of the way our bodies crave the clean water that makes life possible. Thirst, when it is desperate, takes over and directs thought and action. Another story; a friend told me that when she broke her ankle (she fell on some stairs) the pain was such that she totally forgot about her baby whom she was carrying at the time. The baby was fine because the car seat protected him, but she was later horrified that her own need overwhelmed her to the point of forgetting her child.
These stories help me see the desperation of others with more empathy. The story of the people wandering in the desert in Exodus makes more sense. It seems the people are always complaining (and they are). I used to wonder why they never got to the point that they trust God, after all, they have seen miracles. Thinking of the overwhelming nature of thirst and pain, I can begin to understand.
The desperation of thirst helps me understand. My faith would have to be unbelievably strong to enable me to refrain from being a complaining Israelite when I feel I am dying for lack of water. (And really, the complaining seems to work, pushing Moses to talk to God and strike the rock. What do I do with that fact when I don't want to be a complainer?)
Is the faith asked for by God simply impossible for humans? That is one conclusion, however, I think the point is more that God is stronger than our needs. In 2010, I had the opportunity to visit South Sudan. Christians there are in desperate situations, hunger, thirst, violence...it's endemic. Yet the church was vibrant, faith was strong. I don't think it was in spite of desperation, I think it was because of it. Their desperation pushed them to rely on God, and that hope and faith was the only constant, the only living water they had. And it was keeping them alive.
The story of the Samaritan woman at the well is one of my favourites in the Bible. I love the way Jesus speaks to someone he is not supposed to talk to, and I love the smart way she challenges him and is eventually able to accept what he offers. She could, very likely, be in the category of desperate. She is at the well in the heat of day, when no one else would go. That says she is perhaps "unacceptable" to her own people. She has had multiple husbands; maybe not her fault, but she would be viewed as unlucky or sinful in any case. I love that when the disciples see Jesus behaving 'unacceptably' by speaking with a woman, they don't question him and they just observe. Then, I love that this outcast woman witnesses to her neighbours, and because of her, many receive the water of life-the answer to their spiritual desperation.
How do we treat the desperate people who come in to our lives? When they come into the church office, I am often suspicious of the "sob story" I am told. I know that often these are lies or at least exaggerations designed to elicit sympathy and money. What I have also come to know is that these people deserve my empathy (maybe not a food voucher or money but definitely an ear and a prayer!) They are desperate people, blinded by their own needs, searching for the living water that will quench their thirst. I'm not Jesus, I can't give that water. I can, however, be the woman who listens to Jesus, challenges what I hear, and then joyfully witnesses to what I have received in the hopes that others will go to that well too.
And when I find myself in the shoes of the desperate person? I hope then to also follow the example of the Samaritan woman. Listen to Jesus, ask questions, to give up the urge to complain, and be open to receive and share