Contemplating Jesus

LIVING WATER

Posted on by Lucinda M. Vardey

In the Book of Genesis, God created the earth from a “formless void,” water being the first to exist.  Through the course of creation, dry land emerged from the waters, and out of water came the flowers and trees and all vegetation.  Water continued to course its way through scripture: from the great flood (Genesis 7) where Noah and his ark were saved, to the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus (14).  Throughout the history of the Jewish people, God uses the power of water to destroy as well as save.  Those who obey, who follow the ways of God, and those who believe and are faithful, walk clear of the destructive forces of natural power – the immense seas and oceans of life.

The movement of water is as varied as all life – sometimes still and calm like a lake, sometimes trickling like a brook, sometimes meandering as a stream, flowing like a river or pouring from a spring.   In whatever way it appears, it is always the source, the source of teaming life.  And because of its fluidity, it is described as soft and yielding.  Water symbolizes gentleness, purity, endurance and constancy.  It can, over time, soften and re-shape rocks and boulders.  Just as Jesus reminded us in the Beatitudes, the gentle, the meek and the weak have, in the end, the greatest power to transform: a soft heart can move the harsh and the entrenched, a steady flow of kindness provide a path for grace.

In the gospels, the experience of water assumes special significance. At Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, the spirit of God, represented by a dove, was seen descending from above.  From then on Jesus was changed.  As with the tribes of Israel before him, who were sprinkled clean and given “a new spirit” within them (Ezekiel 36:25) Jesus, as God’s chosen one, was charged by this very spirit of God.   Afterwards, as he ventured into the desert, the words of Isaiah held a truth he surely recognized,“The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places……and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water whose waters never fail.” (Is 58:11). Sanctified by the waters of the spirit, Jesus set out to embody and teach the “statues and ordinances” of God. (ref: Ezekiel 36:27).

The wisdom of God was to feed Jesus “with the bread of learning and give him the water of wisdom to drink” (Sirach 15:3-6) so that “She will exalt him above his neighbours and will open his mouth in the midst of the assembly.  He will find gladness and a crown of rejoicing, and will inherit an everlasting name.”

This “everlasting name” Jesus pronounced towards the end of his earthly life.  Resting at Jacob’s well in the heat of the day, he began a conversation with a woman who, by all traditions, was but a “foreigner” a Samaritan who never addressed a Jew (John 4:7-8).  Jesus first asked her for a drink of water and then proposed that he could offer her a different type of water, “living water.”  She responded first with material reason – how is this living water to be got from a deep well with no bucket?  Jesus explained that the water he gives is as a spring (not a well) and that it gushes from within to eternal life.  (Ref John 4: 15)

The living water, which Jesus offered, represented the Spirit of all life that is in God.  Jesus told the Samaritan woman that “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (Ref John 4: 24)  Jesus’ “living water” is the attainable, imperishable, fluidity of Wisdom which was present at the beginning of creation.   This water was witnessed flowing from his body as he was pierced on the cross.  Even at death the spring of living water lived on.

St. Catherine of Siena said of Jesus’ living water that it is “the very core of the knowledge of his true and gentle will which desires nothing but that we be made holy.”  **

**  From “My Nature is Fire: St. Catherine of Siena” by Catherine M. Meade, CSJ

(New York, Alba House, 1991) p. 90.

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