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And we are still thirsty for water!

A reflection on Revelation 22:1-2, written by Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, for the first week of the Seven Weeks for Water 2016.
And we are still thirsty for water!

Near Dkaika, a Bedouin village in the Judean desert, south of Hebron. Photo © Åsa Elfström, EWN

Reflection for the first of the Seven Weeks for Water 2016

Week 1

Please note: Opinions expressed in Biblical reflections or background resources do not necessarily reflect EWN and WCC policy.

By Bishop Munib Younan

Click here for Arabic translation (pdf)

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
(Revelation 22:1-2, ESV)

Salaam and grace to you from Jerusalem, the Holy City. As an Arab Christian, I am thankful for the opportunity to write a reflection for this year’s “Seven Weeks for Water”. Of course, this part of the world always has been dealing with water issues because of its dry climate and few water resources. Today, however, the Palestinian people face an even greater water challenge. It is a crisis that grows worse year after year.

The first reason for the current water crisis stems from the fact that, although Israelis and Palestinians share the same mountain aquifer resource, 80% of the water is pumped to Israelis while Palestinians have access to just 20 percent. This 20% is not adequate for Palestinians’ needs, based on water consumption guidelines from the World Health Organization. As a result, Palestinians must purchase from Israel the water that has been pumped from under Palestinian land.  (www.btselem.org/water)

This unequal access has of course led to unequal usage. Israelis, on average, consume 183 liters of water per day, while Palestinians consume just 73. The WHO recommendation is 100 liters per day for basic human needs, and 150 for a reasonable quality of life. (www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/diseases/wsh0302)

The second reason for today’s water crisis is crumbling infrastructure in the West Bank. Decades of military occupation mean communities don’t have enough resources to build or repair new systems of water collection, storage and purification. Often projects attempted by Palestinian communities are stopped through political maneuvers of the occupation – for example, denying permits for construction unless Israelis are allowed to do similar construction in illegal settlements.

As you can see, water and justice issues are intertwined in my community. The water crisis will not be solved until justice is achieved.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

The water crisis in my community gives this reading from the Book of Revelation special significance for us today. The city the author describes is a “New Jerusalem”, where water flows freely along with healing, peace, and justice for all. But as I sit in my church office here in Jerusalem, I know very well there is no such river flowing through the city. Here in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, we are still thirsty for healing. We are still thirsty for peace. We are still thirsty for justice for all people – Palestinian and Israeli, Jew, Christian and Muslim.

And we are still thirsty for water.

Sometimes when we read Scripture texts like this, the “river of the water of life” may seem abstract, like a dream. But for Palestinians living without enough water, the problem is far from abstract. The residents of Bethlehem are often without water for ten to twenty-one days. At times, there is no water at our Lutheran schools in the community. Can you imagine what a school of three hundred middle-school-age girls is like without water? In such a circumstance, we are forced to purchase tanks of water in order to keep the schools open. This is all the more painful when we see that our neighbours in illegal settlements are enjoying their swimming pools and are watering their lawns. We remain thirsty for justice and equality.

Water is not a luxury for human beings. It is a necessity! It not only cleans, it refreshes. It not only quenches thirst, it renews life. Water is always mentioned as a source of life in the Bible. When Abraham entertained the three angels, he gave them water, saying “My lord, if I find favour with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree.” (Genesis 18:3-4) The prophet Isaiah said to the people, “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55:1) And when Jesus talked with the woman at the well, he said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14)

Our faith tells us water is a gift from God to be shared by all of creation. This understanding of water as flowing from God’s goodness is seen very clearly in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Hope in Ramallah. There in the stained glass we see depicted the seven days of creation. In the centre is the lamb of God and the New Jerusalem, with the river of the water of life flowing from the window above the altar. It appears as if the water is flowing from the New Jerusalem and the altar, through the middle of the congregation.

This is a beautiful image. But it is also a beautiful promise! As baptized followers of Jesus, we believe that the waters of creation, the waters of justice, the waters of peace and the waters of equality are gifts from God for all of God’s people. They flow from the heart of God. And they flow from the foot of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Thoughts and questions for reflection

During this Lenten season, we may ask ourselves:

  • In our daily lives, do we treat water as a gift from God, or as something to which we are entitled?
  • Do we thirst for justice as much as we thirst for a drink of water?
  • Those who enjoy the privileges of free-flowing justice and equality often find it difficult to understand the plight of others. During this Lenten season, how can you increase your thirst for justice? For equality? For the presence of God?
  • What is our responsibility to speak up for those who have unequal access to water?

Let us pray:

Holy God, author of creation, we give you thanks for the gift of water. Increase our thirst for your presence during this Lenten season. Open our eyes to see where the flowing waters of justice have been blocked by human sin. Open our mouths to speak up for those who thirst for an equal measure of the gifts of creation. Open our hearts to share the water of life with all. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.


* The Rt Rev. Dr Munib Younan is the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and one of the presidents of the Middle East Council of Churches. Currently he is also the president of Lutheran World Federation.