In my mid-teens I had the privilege of going on a ‘safari’ into the outback – way up to Tibooburra in the north west corner of NSW. We went to build a flat onto the end of the Church so that ministers from all denominations could stay there overnight. It was an ecumenical venture sponsored by what is now called ‘Frontier Services’, but the Anglicans and the Catholics also contributed funds and materials. The Catholic priest flew up from Broken Hill and arrived to see if we needed anything, and as it happened we needed a ladder. Within an hour he had found one at the local tip. It had a few rungs missing, but we sorted that out and it came in handy. It was encouraging to see how well people from different denominations found the will to work well together.
With a team at work digging trenches, laying concrete and raising walls we needed someone to feed us, and for that we had a fantastic and resourceful cook. In those days, you could buy sliced bread wrapped in waxed paper, and before we headed north to Tibooburra our cook had stocked up on bread, but as the days wore on the bread became stale and some on the team began to complain. When our cook heard the complaints she performed a miracle. At breakfast the next morning we had crusty fresh bread! It was in fact the same bread but she had dipped some loaves in water in their paper wrapping and heated them up in her oven – and to us it seemed miraculous.
In our reading from Exodus last week we read about God giving the Israelites Manna in the desert. It didn’t come wrapped in paper as our bread did, and they had to work for it – to gather the manna and bake it. This week we find them still complaining, and once again it is fear and anxiety that drives them. Without water we just can’t survive – nothing would.
After driving along dusty outback tracks on our way south on completing the flat, we camped beside the road as dusk fell. During the night it poured a torrent which made the next day’s journey a lot slower as we navigated muddy roads and at times needed to get out and push, or dig a car out. One of the things that amazed us all was how quickly the desert turned green and wild flowers appeared from nowhere to carpet the desert floor in vibrant colour.
We all need water, especially if we are going out into the desert. Water is a life source, which is why it is such a powerful symbol. In the Exodus stories water is often connected with the wisdom of God. There are many times in our lives where we can feel spiritually dry as the writer of Psalm 42 voices so vividly.
“As a deer longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for you, O God.”
The people of Israel were certainly at the end of their tether, and as the long drawn out restrictions continue we also find ourselves weary and wasted – longing for something to quench our thirst for meaning and hope.
The Israelites were on a journey to Sinai – the mountain of God – where Moses would give them the wisdom they needed to live well in the land to which they were going. It was there they would receive the Ten Great words of the Law.
This refreshing Wisdom is what the writer of the John’s gospel picks up when he speaks of Jesus offering living water to the woman at the well – water of life. Paul saw Jesus as the spiritual rock from which the living water of God’s wisdom and life can flow into us. Yes, we all need water, but what satisfies our longing for meaning and purpose? Jesus’s word to the woman at the well is also an invitation given to us:
‘The water I will give will become in you a spring gushing up to eternal life.’