by Father Mike Stubbs
Drought has stricken much of the United States this past summer. The crops have withered away for lack of rain. Dry conditions have led to forest fires and grass fires, causing much devastation. The parched earth cries out for water.
The words of Sunday’s first reading — Is 35:4-7a — speak to our desperate need. “Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water.”
Yes, we can relate to that.
In our reading, the prophet appears to be reminding Israel of how God provided water for Israel centuries earlier, when they were traveling through the desert after having escaped from captivity in Egypt. God instructed Moses to strike the rock with his staff: “Moses struck the rock twice with his staff and water gushed out in abundance for the community and their livestock to drink” (Nm 20: 11).
The prophet is promising that God will once again provide water for Israel, but this time in even greater abundance. The huge amount of water will make the desert blossom and come to life. This new miracle will far surpass the wonders of the former. The earlier miracle benefited only Israel, as they passed through the desert. This new miracle will benefit the entire desert, transforming it into an oasis.
The prophet is addressing an Israel held in captivity in Babylon, just as their ancestors had been held in captivity in Egypt. They look forward to returning to the promised land, just as the Israelites of old had traveled to the promised land centuries earlier. Once again, the journey will take them through the parched desert. But God will provide water.
We also have hopes that God will provide water. It is a powerful image of God’s grace, the life that we receive in the sacrament of baptism. Water stands for the ability of God’s grace to wash away sin, to quench our thirst for the Spirit.
But water is not only a striking image of a spiritual reality, it is also a very real physical need. That need can compel us to turn to God. It can force us to recognize our dependence upon God. It can call us to once again acclaim God as our savior, to find in God all our hope:
“Here is your God, he comes with vindication; with divine recompense he comes to save you.”