A reflection for Pentecost. Based on John 7:37-39
There is a story* told by the rabbis of old of a great and harsh desert which people were hesitant to cross because of its scorching heat and shifting sands. In the midst of the barren and dangerous wilderness was a well so deep that you couldn’t even see down to the water within it so people had forgotten what it was and what it was there for.
One day, a man who had to cross the white sands came across it and stopped to wonder at its presence and its purpose. And, as he wondered, he noticed a rusty, cup-shaped object half-buried nearby and a half-a-dozen golden strands scattered around around the strange structure.
While hundreds of others had passed by in too much of a hurry over the years, this man took the time to examine each new discovery, and to wonder whether they fit together and if they could somehow help reach the damp coolness that he could feel coming off from the inside of the sturdy stones.
After a long while of pondering and playing, he settled on tying all of the strands together and the big cup with a handle to one end.
Cautiously, he lowered it into the pit and, just as he reached the very end of his makeshift rope, he heard a strange sound and felt the weight of the bucket – for that’s what the rusty object was – shift.
So he heaved and he heaved and, finally, hauled out a bucket full of the purest, clearest water. And as he drank deeply, he was changed – along with his whole view of the desert world around him.
Now the story actually has two endings. In the first, the man set off on his way again, leaving the bucket and the many strands tied together so that the next person could easily reach and taste the transforming water. In the second, before heading off he carefully untied the golden strands and scattered them again so that the next person to come across the well would have the experience of figuring out the puzzle and finding the treasure of the deep well for themselves.
I wonder which ending you think best.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus finds himself in a dangerous place: the Jewish leaders already hate him and are plotting to kill hm, his disciples are pressuring him to be more of a public figure than he wants to be, and the people are whispering about whether he is a good man or simply a great liar.
Yet, as he stands on the temple courts on the last day of the great festival of Tabernacles, he extends this gracious, grace-filled invitation to them all:
Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.
We all need to hear this invitation on this day of Pentecost for we are living in dangerous times; in a dry and barren place cunningly camouflaged as a welcoming oasis by the luxuries of air-conditioning and uber-eats and internet shopping and thousands of uplifting, motivational messages sent straight to our inbox or Facebook stream.
Even as we advance technologically and acquire more and more stuff to give substance and a vague sense of purpose to our pretty mediocre, mundane lives, we lose the capacity for silence and wonder, for compassion and justice, for unconditional and all-encompassing love.
Like the man in the desert who took time to pick up and put together all of the scattered pieces and gain the refreshing, transforming waters of the deep well, we need to mull over and take time with Jesus’ words to us today if we long to live beyond the shallowness and superficiality of this day and age.
In an inhospitable, suspicious world of high fences, diverted faces, and people always on the GO-GO-GO, Jesus’ first word to us is one of intimacy. COME!
“Come” is the eternal invitation to “approach,” “advance,” “draw near.”
“Come” is the starting point of a conversation, a friendship, a journey, an adventure.
“Come” reminds us of the open arms of God and God’s continual desire to be with us …
… even when we are broken, disobedient, angry, fearful, empty, questioning, thirsty.
The first step towards deeper, Spirit-filled living lies in drowning out all of the noise, the pressure, the demands, and taking a deliberate step closer to God.
But drawing near to God is just the beginning for the next word comes as a command: DRINK!
Imagine for a moment that you are out at a friend’s house, sitting comfortably together when she asks you if she can get you anything. Immediately, you reply, “Actually, I am quite thirsty. I would love a glass of water!”
She returns a few minutes later with a cup of cool, clear water in her hands which she holds out to you but you simply sit there and stare with your own arms crossed. Will your thirst be quenched by looking at the glass?
Of course not!
It requires you to reach back, receive, and deliberately drink deeply of what is on offer.
How many times do we come to God and feel like we are leaving empty-handed, with unanswered prayer, because we’ve actually been holding on too tightly to things that distract and destroy us? How often do we make time to draw near God in worship and walk away feeling irritated or unfed because our constant internal critique of the worship team, the sermon, how we were greeted – or not welcomed – at the door has kept us from hearing the word that God intended?
“Drink.” Jesus commands.
“Take hold of the grace, the love, the wisdom, the peace, the healing, the guidance, the strength that you find in my presence and make it part of you.”
Once again, the act is deliberate. “Drinking” requires attention and intention – not to mention a good dose of humility for reaching out and taking hold is an expression of something we lack, of something we need.
But when we drink deeply of the Spirit of God, when we take the grace we have received into our minds, our hearts, our homes, our communities, something amazing happens: we are changed in a way that changes the world.
Jesus’ final word to us in today’s reading is a promise: “living water will flow from within them.” FLOW!
Many years ago, we purchased a home with an annoying dripping tap next to our patio. The constant trickle of water stained the bricks black with algae that Darren (my husband) had to scrape off every few weeks. He tried brute strength to force the tap closed. He even replaced the rubber stopper but still the water drip-drip-dripped.
Eventually, at my mom’s suggestion, we placed an old cast iron bath tub beneath it; filled it with soil, and planted Louisiana irises which flourished from the constant trickle that had once irritated us so.
Now I’m not suggesting that we, as Christians, become irritating drips to others, but I am wondering: if a trickle of water can bring a bathtub of soil and bulbs into an abundance of life and beauty, what can the free flowing waters of God’s Spirit accomplish? If the unexpected treasure of a deep well in the midst of the desert can change the way a man sees the world and make him consider the legacy he wants to leave for others, how does the Spirit within us open up new ways of looking and loving and living?
“Come. Drink,” Jesus says, “And the Spirit will flow.”
We need to be intentional about the first two words, then God will take over and open the floodgates for there is an everlasting abundance of Spirit to be shared.
Why, then, do we keep trying to tighten the taps? Why do we so often hoard and hold into the grace we have received as if there is not enough to go around?
Raised in the desert world as we are, we learn lies from an early age like, “I’ve earned this,” or “people like that are not worthy,” or “I won’t give them a hand because they’ll take the whole arm.” These moral judgments, entitlements, inadequacies all act like dams in the river of God’s Spirit, interrupting the flow.
This Pentecost may we receive the word of invitation and come to God as we are – deliberately drawing near.
May we hear the command and drink deeply of the grace on offer from the One who loves us most and knows exactly what we need in this present moment.
And may we trust the words of promise and break down the barriers in our hearts which keep the Spirit from flowing in a way that brings beauty and life to others.
* This story has been draw from the Godly play lesson entitled “The Parable of the Deep Well.”