Jerusalem at the End of Modernity Part III

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On the last and greatest day of the Feast Jesus stood and said in a loud voice "If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me as the Scripture says, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the spirit whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

Water is the symbol of spiritual life. In the beginning of creation God's Holy Spirit brooded upon the face of the primeval waters and God separated the waters above the firmament from the waters below the firmament. All life began in water as indeed all life does to this very day.

Water is one of the Great Bible images -- God shows us his salvation to righteous Noah through water; Abraham swears his oath to Abimelech at the well of Beer-Sheba; God causes a spring of water to gush out for Hagar and Ishmael; he parts the waters of the Red Sea; he brings water out of the rock at Meribah; Jonah's right journey of soul is through water; the prophets speak of water as new life -- especially Ezekiel who in that marvelous passage recorded for us in the forty-­seventh chapter of his prophesy tells us that the water flowing from the Temple threshold in Jerusalem will make a great river that will sweeten the great Dead Sea and irrigate the desert region of the Arabah, which part of the world I know so well.

Jesus is baptized in the waters of the Jordan and filled with the Holy Spirit goes into that wilderness to integrate the darkness of sin with the light of the Father's Glory in his extraordinary ministry of grace.

Thirst for the living water has been an aspect and indeed is an aspect of all time pilgrimage. In Samaria [John 4] Jesus enters into debate with the common people at the well about the nature of that living water. He walks upon water in Galilee and of course he changes water into wine at Cana. He heals the paralytic man by the pagan well of asclepius near the sheep gate in Jerusalem, called in Hebrew Bethzatha [John 5:2] and on the last day of the great Jewish festival, Sukkoth, the feast of the Tabernacles, he stands in the temple and cries, "Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and let the one who believes in me drink." As the scripture says, "out of the believers heart shall flow rivers of living water."

Water is life. Without water there is no life.

Where I live in Jerusalem, we are deeply conscious of our need to drink water. It is a precious commodity and all of us know only too well the dire consequences of dehydration.

Recently I spent five days in the Sinai desert. I was careful to shield myself from the sun, and I was careful to drink my three litres of water a day. But that was not enough. I spent a wretched few days with sunstroke and dehydration. It happens to very many people. The heat is so intense one does not perspire so one does not feel as though there is any problem.

Water surely is God's gift.

All of the water used in Israel -- Palestine comes either from the lake of Kinneret called the Lake of Galilee on the Sea of Tiberias, from Bier, that is wells dug by individual families deep down into the subterranean acquitter; from what are called Aiyn -- Oases, or from clefts in rocks low down at the base of mountains.

There are a number of source supplies of water for the Lake of Galilee and the Jordan River flowing from the Lake down to the Dead Sea. In fact there are six principle sources of the Jordan River from the melting snow of Mount Hermon and the beautiful streams of Dan in the north down to Elisha's well at Jericho, the oldest city on earth which boasts some luxuriant gardens. Herod built a swimming pool there in which he drowned young Jonathan, the High Priest. He also had running tap water and indoor toilets two thousand years ago.

Because it is situated some four thousand feet above the level of the Dead Sea to the east, Jerusalem's rainwater runs down through the Judean wilderness to be evaporated by the scorching sun or turned, like Lot's wife, into salt waste.

Water everywhere is promise of new life because of the profound unusual symbolism of this element. Man shall not live by bread alone... humanity shall not continue to exist on planet earth without fresh water.

Water is a theological issue for the Middle East. Water is also an issue for continuing life there now, but more particularly in the future as populations expand.

In the long past history of the Middle East wars have been fought over land. Any future great conflict will be over water simply because, unless there is a break on the profligate use of water in the Holy Land there will not be sufficient for human survival in the next century.

If Christ's church is to remain obedient to his command and continue to proclaim Good News to the world it is my contention his followers must be prepared, as he was, to go down to the gates of hell to confront the evils that beset society in our own age. And "what?" you may well ask me are the issues confronting society in our own Age?

They are the issues of justice, of the conservation amd preservation of the natural environment; issues of extraordinary profligacy -- wastefulness, misuse of the natural resources; issues of trash, garbage of all kinds, from cigarette butts to nuclear wastes; issues of recycling waste; and the issue of racism which I, from where I live, see to be alive and well. Above all the most pressing issue is water.

All around the Mediterranean, according to a survey conducted in April of this year, 1996, levels of water in uderground supplies are diminishing rapidly. Between the Jordan River and the Great Sea there are over 7 million people living; 5 million Israelis, 2 million Palestinians. It has been officially estimated, and in her remarkable and important book, "Covenant Over Middle Eastern Waters," Joyce Shira Starr comments that by the year 2015, when the combined populations of Israel and Palestine reach 11 million people, Israelis and Palestinians will have only the water from rainfall and no other to sustain viable life. The underground water resources will have been exhausted.

There may not be, in fact, sufficient water for agricultural use at all in twenty years time. Add to the Middle East all other parts of the world where lunatic policies regarding conservation and greening are major issues and we have a recipe for global disaster. And, as an Australian who has lived in the outback of that Great Land, excess application of water to land that is accustomed to meager rainfall for countless centuries produces useless waste lands.

Irrigation of large tracts of desert land in Australia and the introduction of European type animals -- sheep and cattle -- has resulted in enormous tracts of salt waste.

As I observe some aspects of unnatural agriculture in Israel-Palestine I have similar concerns for the future there.

Imagine also the massive headaches for the authorities responsible for the disposal of human waste and garbage!

Of course there are those who respond to my concerns by saying "There is abundant water in the sea just waiting desalination." To such I rest my case based on eye witness experience of the desolation caused in the great valleys of Southern Australia.

One of the most extraordinary phenomena of suburban living all over the Western world may be observed when one flies into any airport serving a large city. For example, backyard swimming pools in the unlawfully occupied West Bank, while down on the coastal planes, there is insufficient water for human consumption.

The voice of Christian witness in the Holy Land although vocal is not strong. We are in fact very few in number and that number is decreasing.

In so many parts of the Christian world the voice of Christian witness is stagnant water, unfiltered water, water muddied by intolerance, and unreflected bias and bigotry, water choked by the minerals of prejudice and un-­thought­-through inheritances. The clear word of truth must be spoken. In many parts of the world concerted efforts are being made to conserve water. This must happen everywhere if our children are to survive without war.

That life is just and fair is not the daily experiences of most Palestinians anymore than it has been for the Jews in Diaspora, for Moslem Croatians or for any people living under occupation since the Fall of Man.

According to the Bible Jerusalem is the city from which flows the living water. It is the sacred place and space of all Jews, Christians and Moslems. It is the spiritual heritage of all people of the three Abrahamic Faiths and will be truly, in KAIROS, that is, in God's own time, city of peace for the whole world. But without water there can be no peace. We are living in a critical time when the water which flows from Jerusalem, the living water needs to nourish the harsh soil of racism and oppression just as surely as the sweet waters of Galilee and the Jordan need to nourish the bodies of all who live there. It is not possible to have drinking water without the living water of peace and good will.

There is the will for peace but peace must be just. Justice insists that Israeli and Palestinian, Jew, Moslem and Christian alike be permitted to live in the land, to live off the land and to share water from the well God gave to Abraham who is father of us all.

The issues of peace where I live are religious and theological, not simply political and pragmatic.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May the Prince of Peace, who is Himself the one who gives living water, open our eyes to see the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions.

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