March 24, 2019
Hunger & Thirst
Have you ever been extremely hungry? Stomach pain hungry? Jesus compared stomach-growling hunger to spiritual hunger. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal.” [6.27] A wise guy once said, “If you’re not hungry for God, you’re probably full of yourself.” And we know water is essential for life. A wise guy once said, “There is no life without water because water is essential for making coffee!” Jesus compared himself to living water. Far too many people across the globe suffer from life-threatening safe water shortages.
Is spiritual nurture even more essential than water and food? That’s a great question for Lenten season reflection: Is spiritual sustenance even more essential than water and food?
Today’s text from Isaiah urges us to read ’thirst’ and ‘hunger’ in terms of physical and spiritual hungers and thirst: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!” The Judean people had recently returned from exile. The people allowed to stay behind in their homeland had been living in the rubble, much like war ravaged Middle East towns today that are ravaged by greed for power. After the exile, all the Judeans faced food and water deprivation. In addition to physical adversities, the returning exiles’ way of life and faith practices had been compromised living among people who did not share their faith. They longed to restore their covenant life with God as they had known it.
Unlike exiles and war victims throughout the ages, we are reasonably comfortable and secure. Our longing for the comfort and security of meaningful connection with God seems less urgent. However, we may feel like exiles in our own land. We may feel marginalized as national values shift away from traditional Christian principles; and technology leaves many of us in the dust. Even religion is now broadly individualized spirituality rather than church centered faith. North America society conditions people to focus on personal success and make practical choices. Given this practical orientation, most average N Americans bury spiritual yearning deep down below our TO DO lists. We stick to useful stuff that we can readily understand and apply to everyday life.
History testifies that all people long to probe mysteries of life and to draw strength from a higher power. However, Spiritual wisdom defies definition. So the Bible and spiritual people often use metaphors to describe spiritual experiences. Scriptures compare spiritual nurture to drinking from the fount of life and Christians compare spiritual nourishment to a feast--having abundant food to eat and comfort food.
Thank the Lord, that unlike many parts of the world, we have not yet experienced safe water scarcity! For many communities, having safe water is a daily survival concern. Spirituality is often compared to water. Jesus explained that he provides living water. People who struggle to obtain safe water can readily see the parallel of life-giving power. Deprivations inspire spiritual seeking. Spirituality among comfortable people tends to be minimal because suffering does not press us to seek spiritual comfort.
Listen again to Isaiah’s prophecy: “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” This promise to satisfy bodily hunger and thirst also promises to feed spiritual needs. Physical and spiritual hungers are inexorably connected. Many Food Pantry visitors express deep-seated gratitude when they receive food. They often say “God bless you.” to the volunteer who hands them food.
Most of us have never known life-threatening hunger. We can't even imagine long-term hunger and life-threatening dehydration of third world poor people, thousands of refugees and victims of political strife and violent conflicts today. Long-term hunger and thirst must be horrific, made only worse if your children are suffering from hunger and thirst. As well as foreign refugees, longtime residents in Newburgh and elsewhere in the US suffer food scarcity because of discrimination or other factors that could be solved by reasonable advocacy on their behalf. Practical and spiritual priorities inevitably merge. In what ways is God calling us to be part of solving food and water insecurity? This is a spiritual question: In what ways is God calling us to be part of solving food and water insecurity?
For those of us who feel relatively secure, then humble Christian service can point us to spiritual insights. God’s love is infinitely abundant. Practicing and promoting harmony with God’s vision for humanity furthers the mutuality in which all people can freely eat and drink. This is part of God’s vision for the world—our spiritual wisdom gives us power to stand up against feuds and violence over the water rights to the Gaza strip or power abuse that causes any countries’ populations to be close to starvation.
The promise of “wine and milk without money and without price” is a metaphor to demonstrate that God is doing something new – like the metaphor of a healing fountain springing up in the desert. God offers an invitation to draw near and to drink living water and food that satisfies. God is re-creating new starts of harmony in today’s world, too. Earth can sustain human population where all eat and drink as much as every person has need. God calls each of us to participate in God’s envisioned world of harmony and sharing of abundance.
Our collective (and individual) hunger and thirst are wrapped up together in the new thing that God is doing in the world. God’s healing harmonizing may be hard to see because we are barraged by political and media-driven bad news. Maybe we need to start a good news TV station. At the very least, each of us has frequent opportunities to practice goodwill and harmony in our daily contacts.
New life in the Spirit requires change—life-enriching change. The first Gentile Christians faced wonderful life-filling spiritual changes and difficult practical challenges as a result of a new Christian way of life. The first Jewish Christians had to adapt to radical religious and social changes. Early Christians had to re-think generations-long religious traditions and social norms—to adapt to the awesome, strange Christian Way.
As you reflect back over your day or week, here are some questions for reflection and prayer: In what ways have you hungered recently? In what ways have you thirsted? Have your empty or parched places been refreshed? Focus outward also: Where have you experienced God at work meeting the deep needs of the world? Where have you felt inspired to help redress or curtail deep physical or spiritual needs in the world?
Anthony Robinson tells about a church that neared closure. A church leader explained: "We were just fifty elderly people left in this huge sanctuary. But something changed. We now have four or five hundred people in church. We have new ministries in the community. New people, young and old, rich and poor, gay and straight are getting involved.
It wasn't all our new minister, but he got us studying the Bible. Our minister gives a wonderful Bible study. In fact, he can summarize the entire message of the Bible in just six words. Rev. Robinson rolled his eyes and asked, “AND WHAT might those six words be?”
The man laughed, "The six words that summarize the entire Bible message? 'I am God and you're not.'"