Sunday, December 03, 2006

All Who Thirst

“Jesus stood up and proclaimed: ‘If any one thirst, let him come to Me and drink, who believes in Me. As the scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’ Now this he said about the Spirit…” (John 7:37-39). Thirst is a metaphor for urgent desire, for longing, and drinking is a metaphor for its fulfillment. Thus we see that from the Heart of Christ comes the fulfillment of our deepest desires, through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is reminding his hearers of God’s call to his people through the prophet Isaiah: “All who thirst, come to the water… without money and without price… Incline your ear to Me; hear, that your soul may live…” (55:1-3). And He is foreshadowing the “last call” of the Bible: “Let him who is thirsty come; let him who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17).

As St Augustine famously said, our hearts are restless until they rest in God, and he was reminding his hearers of Psalm 61/62: “Only in God is my soul at rest.” This restlessness is a kind of thirst, a longing for all that is good, true, and beautiful, that is, for all that is holy and eternal—for God. Most people are aware of some sort of inner restlessness and longing, though they don’t always know that it is for God. Satan cashes in on this lack of focus and awareness, and he provides all sorts of superficial surrogate fulfillments that may temporarily mollify the longing but which do not really satisfy it, because such passing and misdirected gratifications can never bring true peace and “rest” to the soul. In fact, they only tend to agitate it the more, setting it on a vicious cycle of need and satisfaction, which leads to enslavement and despair.

So our thirst needs to be directed toward the only source that can bring genuine and lasting fulfillment: the grace of the Spirit, flowing from the Heart of Christ like living water. The Lord tries to properly direct our desire: “If anyone thirst, let him come to Me…”

But there may be some, perhaps many, who are lukewarm, who have no passionate desire either for Christ or for sinful surrogates. In a sense they do not even know they are thirsty. (At least those who are passionate for sin have a thirst that can be redirected; it’s much harder when there’s nothing there to direct!) I have read that as some people become very old, they tend to lose their sense of thirst. Old people can die of dehydration before they are even aware of their thirst, their desperate need for water. This can happen in a spiritual sense as well. We can become, through laziness, negligence, and lack of focus and direction, spiritually “dehydrated,” seriously ill through lack of the living water of divine grace. This is all the more tragic since this living water is offered as a gift, free for the asking, “without price.”

Advent is a time first of all to rediscover our thirst, our innate desire to rest in God, to find our fulfillment and happiness in the gentle floods of living water flowing from divine wellsprings. If we are lukewarm or lazy, we must pray that this thirst be awakened in us, lest we perish without even realizing that our souls are in danger. If our desires are unruly or misdirected, we must pray that the Holy Spirit will show us where true fulfillment lies, that He will unmask the phony satisfactions and reveal them for the frauds they are.

We can’t afford to go through life unaware of the movements of our own hearts, heedless of the paths upon which our choices place us, of the destinations our desires determine. Let us come to Jesus, even if our own longings are confused or conflicting. When we know the gift of God, and who it is who is offering it to us, we will no longer drink foul waters from the mouth of the dragon (Rev. 12:15), but our cups will run over with delight as we quench our thirst with the living waters of grace from the Heart of Jesus. And our restless souls will find rest in Him.