Quenched by Another’s Thirst
JULY 28, 2020
Listen, that you may live, he says. Not by the labor of your hands or the sum total of your accomplishments but by hearing and holding fast to the one who fills empty vessels.
If my life were to be summarized in a word, there isn’t one more fitting than “want.” As a kid, my wants would sometimes take the form of future aspirations: I want to play point guard in the NBA, see the Vikings win the Super Bowl, suck less at math, etc. More often though, my wanting was and often still gets divided between the various forms of approval or the next best thing. What feels like a new want or desire is often just a different location on the treadmill of my soul, cycling through its repetitive circuit in order to never arrive.
Wanting is What We Do
A Buddhist response to our wanting appears simple enough: prescribe a pathway of mindfulness tactics and meditation in order to detach from the many daily desires we experience. Jesus, on the other hand, does not offer or suggest a different way up this same mountain. Instead, he does quite the opposite: positioning “want” as a prerequisite to knowing God. Far from being a thing to flee from, ignore, or suppress, the Bible teaches we were wired to want. It’s both what we do and who we are as humans. Hear the words of Isaiah 55:
“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
Water, wine, milk, and bread are used here by Isaiah to signify something far greater than the body’s daily cravings for carbohydrates. Jesus interprets the prophet Jonah being hurled into hurricane-like conditions as an indicator of the greater, spiritual storm caused by our sin being calmed by his storm-quieting atonement on the cross. In a similar way, Isaiah interprets the daily appetites of hunger and thirst as communicating something more. Our appetites for physical things point to a deeper, greater want — our shared human experience of never being able to arrive at contentment. Without the benefits of his ambition, we all share Hamilton’s diagnosis of a soul that will never be satisfied.
Where do we go to solve this problem? The Psalms speak of our soul’s thirst as one of the more regular problems we experience. We read of one author who looks at a deer panting for water, and sees his deepest longings represented in this picture of physical thirst. It drives him (and us) to a question: how do we come to the waters and find real rest and contentment in this life?
The one thing needed
A dose of philosophy or moral teaching is not going to fix us when we are distracted by all the preparations we think we need to make in life, pointing out the faults of others as we confidently assess the work we bring to the table. Jesus encounters and assesses our being worried and upset about many things. He says few things are needed — or indeed only one. Listen, that you may live, he says. Not by the labor of your hands or the sum total of your accomplishments but by hearing and holding fast to the one who fills empty vessels.
Like the 90’s commercial positioning Gatorade as the solution to “your deep down body thirst,” the gospel shows the solution to the far greater, more encompassing thirst – that of your soul. He provides the one thing needed and takes our thirst from us.
Jesus takes on our thirst
In light of our soul’s thirst for God but never finding, we see the story of the Bible climax in the man Jesus taking our place in death. When he climbs the cross, we hear him proclaim “I am thirsty” as he places himself under our death warrant and is spiritually cut off from the source of eternal life. Watch him take on the words of Isaiah 55 as his death opens the door to a feast that has remained shut for so long to us desert-wandering, soul-parched sinners. Listen, listen to him and eat the bread which signifies his body given for you. Taste the wine poured out for you to see that you were made for and saved by God. To know him is to no longer jump from want to want.
Jesus replaces our thirst with a river
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “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.” John 7:37-38
It’s not an accident that Jesus chooses a river as the metaphor for what will take place spiritually inside of those who bank their hope on him. Rivers are a dynamic source of life and movement. The Bible ends with a picture of a great river that flows from the tree of life. The greek word chosen for tree there is the same word used to describe the tree where the king of glory died so that all might live. While hanging on the cross, a soldier pierces him causing a rush of blood and water to flow from his side, so that all who look on him who was pierced in our place would find rest as the ancient hymn recites:
“There is a fountain filled with blood
drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
and sinners plunged beneath that flood
lose all their guilty stains.”
Come and drink deeply from the river that will never fail, is always moving, and always has a better word to say to your soul. Come without money because this costly gift from the Father is free of charge to your account. Give ear and come to Jesus; listen and believe.
This post originally appeared here.