Thirsting for Life

John 4 is one of my favourite gospels. I love the feistiness of the Samaritan woman, the way in which she engages in dialogue with Jesus, neatly side-stepping some awkward questions but responding to him with generosity and increasing frankness until finally she can set off to tell everyone about him. There is such energy and vividness in the way in which the evangelist presents a quite complicated theological statement. One can have great fun tracing the significance of the five husbands, the five baals, and different elements of the story. Yet it was not this that made me think as I read the gospel at Vigils this morning but the simple fact of Jesus’ thirst.

The next time we shall hear of Jesus’ thirsting will be as he hangs on the Cross. Thirst is worse than hunger: a more insistent, more urgent need. The idea of God thirsting for our love so intensely that he is prepared to give the life of his Son is deeply shocking, enough, surely, to shock us out of our complacency. No? The sad fact is that we have heard the story so often, seen the image of the Crucified One so frequently, that we have become a little deadened to its impact. This morning’s gospel is all about life. Maybe we need to listen to it with fresh ears.

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Women’s World Day of Prayer 2011

Map of Ivory CoastLast night I could not sleep. Trying to pray failed to cure my insomnia, so I fell back on listening to the World Service. A report from Ivory Coast shocked me. A woman described how a group of about 5,000 unarmed women had gathered to march in support of Alassane Ouattara. As they began to do so, tanks appeared and at least six women were gunned down by the security forces (the woman speaking claimed eight were shot, including one pregnant woman whose womb was ripped open and another whose head was blown off in front of her). This morning, that report is not even mentioned on the front page of the BBC news web site. To me, that is eloquent both of the quiet heroism of many women and their “unimportance”.

It is ironic yet strangely fitting that the news should reach us today, which is Women’s World Day of Prayer. Had those Ivorean women been hurling sticks and stones, I suppose the story might have been more newsworthy, but they were defenceless, in a part of Africa no one except God thinks about very much or very often. Today huge numbers of women throughout the world will be gathering together to pray, and the prayer of all will be one with the prayer of the powerless and “unimportant” in every age. I believe such prayer is powerful with God. Perhaps the death of those women in Ivory Coast may help bring about the political change which no amount of diplomatic dealing or violence has yet been able to do. I certainly hope so.

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Brotherly Love

Donna Rice was returning home from a trip to buy school uniforms with her sons, Jordan and Blake. Unfortunately, the place they were in was Toowoomba and they were caught up in the “inland tsunami”. A rescuer managed to reach them as they stood on the roof of their car and started to tie a rope round Jordan. The thirteen year-old insisted, however, that his younger brother Blake be rescued first. Blake was indeed rescued, but Jordan and his mother were swept away.

This story will go round the world, and rightly so. Of the many stories of heroism coming out of Queensland, it is one of the most affecting. I daresay Jordan and Blake were like any other brothers, completely unsentimental, given to scrapping with each other but fiercely loyal in the face of any outside interference. Yet in the shock and horror of that moment in the floodwaters, Jordan made a choice many an adult might not have been able to make. Fear can make even the most generous selfish. It takes a pure heart to choose another’s good instinctively, to sacrifice self.

As we pray for the Rice family in their grief, let us also thank God for this reminder that human beings, even very young ones, can live lives of great grandeur. It adds a new emphasis to Jesus’ exhortation to become as little children. Adults, take note.

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