Somewhere in the world today, instead of joyful, playing children, there are listless children: perhaps a bit fussy, with sunken eyes, dry skin, low blood pressure, a feeble pulse. These are thirsty children, but may become too weak to even sip life-giving water. 900 of these children will die today due to lack of safe water and poor sanitation which contaminates the water available, leading to disease and death. The World Economic Forum calls this a world crisis: 1 out of every 3 persons lacks access to adequate sanitation. There are more cell phones in the world than there are toilets. It is estimated within eight years more than half of the world’s population will face a growing water-based vulnerability.
The worldwide demand for water tripled in the past century, largely due to Agricultural and industry use. And it is currently doubling roughly every twenty-one years. The places that will be hit hardest, in Africa and the Middle East, are places that are already having serious water shortages. Some people call clean water the new oil.
Water is all around us. 71 percent of the Earth’s surface is covered with water, and the human body is between 55 and 78 percent water, depending upon body size. We need to take in about eight glasses of water a day to stay well hydrated. It doesn’t happen automatically. We must seek out clean water if we are to stay healthy keep our bodies in balance.
Less perceptible but just as urgent is the spiritual crisis. There are people who are lost on the inside. People whose hearts have been darkened. There are people out there whose lives are out of joint, who lack peace, the capacity to have compassion and to love. People languish spiritually as surely a dehydrated person lingers between life and death. The clear, clean thirst for God has been contaminated by materialism, greed and selfishness, among other pollutants, that masks deeper spiritual needs. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” The prophet Isaiah asks us.
Like water, Spirit is the fundamental building block of life. Our spiritual lives require its 8 glasses a day – it can be listening to a moving piece of music that moves our spirit, reading the scriptures or a devotional, spending time in nature, praying, serving our neighbor. However it requires conscious acts, of seeking God, seeking Holy Spirit and calling out, just like deliberately picking up that glass of clean, fresh water. Jesus says, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." John 7:37-39
Spiritual sustenance depends on relationship – with God and with each other. So a healthy, balanced, spirit infused life of living water is one characterized by gratitude. Today Jesus gives us examples of spiritually-deprived lives, thirsty lives that seek other avenues to be fed. There were some people who were talking to Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. This reflects a sadistic act of the Roman Prefect, a spiritually bereft man - who we will meet personally at Jesus’ trial on the day and be the bureaucrat responsible for Jesus’ death.
It is a spiritually deficient heart that would blame these victims and look for signs of sin in their lives for their terrible fate. No Jesus says. Just like those 18 people upon whom the tower of Siloam fell – another tragedy – that people sought to blame the victim – Jesus says there was no particularly evil thing these poor people did to cause their deaths. A spiritually parched heart would locate blame and guilt on others, or some sick sense of enjoyment or vindication. This is not the case with a spiritually healthy heart – which instead would feel compassion for the victims and their families.
For this reason Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree that hasn’t bloomed in three years, despite the expense, time and effort involved. A spiritually thirsty heart would say enough is enough! Three years is adequate time, and most would agree with this assessment. It is a spiritually evolved heart, filled to the brim with living water, spirit and love, that says give it one more year. I’ll pull out the stops, I’ll do everything I can think of – I will not give up on it.
That is what Jesus wants and prays for us. To have hearts that are spiritually fully hydrated; brimming, overflowing. Hearts that see and act as God sees, whose ways are not our ways, whose thoughts are not our thoughts. Hearts that see a world with a water crisis and not say, “It’s not my problem, I have plenty of clean water to spare. Let them solve their own problems.” Instead, Jesus wants us to see that the poor are no different from us, and ultimately the water crisis, which is already impacting parts of our own country – is a we problem, not a they problem.
There has been a big brouhaha over whether Pope Francis called Donald Trump not a Christian, given comments the candidate has made on immigration. However one may construe the situation, the Pope’s actual comments give us all room to pause and reflect on our own practice of following Jesus. The Pope said, in brief: “… a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the gospel.”
A spiritually well- hydrated person builds bridges, makes connections, forges relationships, and invests time in others. This is what Jesus is teaching in Luke. We see suffering people and ask “how can we help,” not wonder what they did wrong, how I can avoid their mishap, or remove what is problematic from my sight. The explanations Jesus faced were all about building walls: those people did something bad to die that way. That fig tree is unproductive, so let’s remove it from sight. These are walls we build when we are spiritually dehydrated. Walls separate people: bridges connect. Christians, Pope Francis says, are bridge builders not wall builders. Filled with living water, well-hydrated, we automatically overflow with compassion, kindness, forbearance and patience. We build bridges.
We are all thirsty people. Every day we thirst. Every day we must drink water to survive. We can go up to three weeks without food. We typically cannot survive more than 3-4 days without water.
The same is true for our spirits. We are a chronically spiritually dehydrated people. How many of us are thirsty for God? Do we yearn for God as much as we do for rain when we’re in the middle of a drought? Do we long for God the way we long for glass water when we’re very thirsty? In Psalm 63 we read where David, writes, O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; My soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water.”
We are usually aware when we are physically dehydrated. Our body literally screams for water. Our throats are parched; our mouth and skin are dry. Are we attuned to our spirit and its’ needs to be replenished?
The Lenten season is a time for us to become awaken to our need for God and Living water. We are asked to give up special treats, do something extra for someone, to pay more attention to our spiritual life. We are called to Lenten exercises to awaken ourselves to our fundamental thirst for God; to deepen our awareness of our need for Jesus, our living water. Lent in a sense should not be a season of deprivation, but a coming out of deprivation, an awakening to the life God has envisioned for us: As Isaiah so richly recorded: “You shall go out with joy and led back in peace.” Such is a spiritually full life.
Lent reminds us that, like the world’s water sources, our spiritual sources have become polluted through the excesses of materialism, with distractions from technology, from our alienation from our very souls. We drink polluted waters – no wonder our spirits become ill – with the ill-judgments and impatience that also plagued the disciples of Jesus. This is not God’s will for us. God wants us to have fresh clean water for our body and spirit, every day.
So today let us choose to stay hydrated – thanking God for clean water, but for the many ways we can hydrate our Spirit – through Jesus; in music, in silence, in time spent reading scripture or devotionals, in serving our neighbor. Let us rediscover how thirsty we are for God – as vital as the breathe we take each moment. May we see how thirsty everyone is – and may we thirst to be a part of the solution to a healthier, and a more whole world. Amen.