"If any man is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink..." Of course, it's a bit of a rhetorical statement, offered as it was at a time whenon demand faucets and indoor plumbing hadn't yet been invented, and offered in a place that regular saw temperatures above 100, (or 30 if you're Canadian). Of course they're thirsty. The words of Jesus aren't really words about thirst; the thirst part is presupposed.
The real heart of the statement is that when you're thirsty, you're to come and drink of Jesus. Now, I love metaphor as much as most people (save some geeky poet friends), but there are times when Jesus' words frustrate me no end. He talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood. What's that supposed to mean? When His mom comes looking for Him, he turns to the crowd and says, "Who is my mother?" as if He's forgotten what she looks like. And now this: "if you're thirsty, come and drink of me." Unlike some of the most popular parables, Jesus never took the disciples aside in the back room and explained this thirst metaphor. He just hung it out there for us to embrace and practice without offering a stitch of explanation.
While this frustrates me, it's also true that these open ended statements are part of what makes the Bible live for every generation. Because everything's not spelled out, we need to wrestle with it, pray about it, talk about it, contextualize it, and hold our answers with enough boldness to explain why believe them, and enough humility to discard them when more light shines on our convictions and shows us we need to shift. So, realizing that we don't have the privilege of Jesus sidebar interpretation, here's how this living word has been speaking to me lately:
First of all, I reiterate that the issue isn't whether or not I'm thirsty; thanks be to God I am, and most of the time. I thirst for intimacy in my marriage, meaning in my work, healing of my soul, authentic relationships with my adult children. I thirst to be informed by truth and grace as I fulfill my responsibilities of a shepherd. I thirst for sanity in world, peace, justice, beauty, hope.
If those were the limits of my thirsts then learning to drink from Jesus would be simple because these are good thirsts and a good drink will quench a good thirst. My problem, though, is that interwoven with those few noble thirsts are lots of other things, uglier things. I thirst to be adored, to be left alone, to be comfortable, to be so wealthy and secure that I need never depend on anyone again, least of all God. I thirst for relational autonomy way too often. I thirst for the stimulation of the city, and the beauty of the mountains. I thirst to expand my sphere of influence, and to move to the middle of nowhere, where I can fish, cook, climb, and be the master of my own universe.
What a mess of thirsts! And herein lies the hope of Jesus words, the point for me at which they begin to make sense. It's encouraging that Jesus doesn't moralize about my thirsts, casting judgement on my desires. I can already hear some of you accusing me of heresy here, but don't light the fire yet. For too many centuries, the church has wrongly assessed that our problems stem from our desires. But I can't find Jesus running around ranting about our desires anywhere in the gospels, even the non-canonical ones!
Instead, His invitation is related to what we do when the pangs of any thirst are born in our hearts, never mind whether the thirst comes from our wounded, rebellious soul, or our deepest longings for the world God created. In both cases the admonition is the same: if you're thirsty, come to Jesus. This is profoundly liberating for me because I'm learning to link my relationship with Jesus with all my thirsts, not just my healthy ones, but the unhealthy ones too.
It's also counterintuitive. The gnawing unhealthy thirsts tell me that they won't be satisfied with anything less than an unhealthy beverage, the soul equivilant of a monster slurpee when what I really need is fresh squeezed OJ. Of course, this is where faith comes in. This is where I'm learning to interact with Jesus and find some measure of satisfaction in Him, both when I'm thirsting for healthy intimacy, and when I'm lusting for pleasure or escape. Somehow, the turning to Christ in the midst of my unhealthy thirsts has the effect of changing my appetites; not instantly, and not entirely, but subtly and slowly. Thanks be to God, I'm slowly losing my appetite for soul slurpees.
The methodology Jesus had mind for "drinking of Him" remains a mystery because I don't think He had a methodology in mind. He wants us to wrestle with this stuff. For me, a born and bred Baptist, it's taken nearly half a century to discover that this "drinking of Christ" works best for my sould when I pray daily prayers from a book like this one, which is a decidedly non-Baptist practice. "Coffee with God" is what I call it, and it's become increasingly important to my mornings, not in a legalistic way, but in some sort of better way. It entails brewing a pot of French Press and then sitting (outside or in, depending on seasons) with Jesus as I pray the daily prayers, drawn from the Psalms, and pour out my heart. I do this because of all my thirsts, and for this reason, I'm learning to thank God for this holy and unholy juxtaposition of desires because together they lead me to the water of Christ I'd never have found if I weren't thirsty.