In Isaiah 55, the prophet makes a universal appeal to a basic human longing.
All you who are thirsty,
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, buy grain and eat;
Come, buy grain without money,
wine and milk without cost!
Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what does not satisfy?
Only listen to me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
Pay attention and come to me;
listen, that you may have life (verses 1-3).
This anticipates the words of Jesus in John 7:37,
On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and called out in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.”
How can Jesus satisfy our thirst?
Isaiah 55 provides an answer, drawing upon an analogy between water and the word of God:
Yet just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me empty,
but shall do what pleases me,
achieving the end for which I sent it (verses 10-11).
We can recognize that this passage is ultimately talking about Jesus if we remember that He is the Word Incarnate. Here, Isaiah gives us a beautiful analogy that helps us to understand on a deeper level how Jesus, as the Word, satisfies us. The text makes it clear that thirst is about much more than just a synonym for desire.
First, both water and the Word descend from the ‘heavens.’ Rain enters into the soil of the earth. And divinity entered into humanity. Water nourishes and so does the Word: “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
Water feeds all the plants of the earth. The Word Incarnate watered a new Garden of Eden in the womb of Mary, eventually leading to a new Tree of Life—the cross. (For more reflections on Mary’s womb as the new garden see here and here.)
Water softens the hard ground. So also the ‘water’ of the Word softens the hardness of our hearts, as one commentary points out.
Water also evaporates and returns to the heavens. Jesus came to earth and ascended to the heavens.
Water ultimately has a lasting effect on the earth, making it ‘fertile and fruitful’ and so does the Word Incarnate in us. Jesus says,
Whoever believes in me, as scripture says:
‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him’” (John 7:38).
Jesus is referring to Isaiah 12:3, which refers to drawing water from the fountains of salvation, and Ezekiel 47:1, describing water flowing out in four directions from the temple in Jerusalem. The language in Ezekiel may ring a bell for people who know their Bibles really well. It recalls the description of the Garden of Eden:
A river rises in Eden to water the garden; beyond there it divides and becomes four branches (Genesis 2:10).
So, what Jesus is promising in John 7:38 is that we are destined to become like Mary, our own Gardens of Eden, watered by the Word. The ultimate ‘fruit’ of the Garden of Eden was man, who, according to the Genesis account was formed out of the ground (Genesis 2:7). The fruit of the new Garden of Eden, Mary, was the God-man.
Now we too are called to be as fruitful as Mary, to become Christ-bearers. And, in so doing, we ourselves become a new creation, a new man.
The call to satiate our thirst in Christ then is about more than simply satisfying a desire. It is that, but it also more than that. It is about responding to our deepest and most ancient of yearnings in a way that will totally transform our souls, from parched desert lands into lush gardens.
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