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Thirsty for justice

The seventh and last reflection of the seven weeks for water 2020 of the WCC’s Ecumenical Water Network is written jointly by Ms Frances Namoumou, Programmes Manager, and Mr Netani Rika, Communications Specialist, Pacific Conference of Churches.

The seventh and last reflection of the seven weeks for water 2020 of the WCC’s Ecumenical Water Network is written jointly  by Ms Frances Namoumou, Programmes Manager, and Mr Netani Rika, Communications Specialist, Pacific Conference of Churches.  In the following reflection they have analysed the water  scarcity situation in the Pacific that is getting worsened by climate change with a justice perspective from the narratives of the persistent widow of the bible. They challenge us not to give up our “thirst for justice” under any circumstances.

Text: Luke 18: 1-8 ;  John 14: 4

Reflection

Have you ever seen pictures of the soil when there is a drought? You know, those pictures in which the soil cracks open in multiple places, there is no grass and it’s obvious that this dryness will be overcome by much more than just rain.

This is a dryness, a thirsting for water that is all-consuming and starts on the surface of the earth, reaching deep within, even to its very core.

Such was the widow’s desire for justice that she would not accept no for an answer – even from the judge.

Her insatiable desire – her thirst – for justice was such that she went back time after time to press her case. Through the streets of some Palestinian village, along dusty roads, her face and hair caked in dust, her lips and tongue parched, her mouth bone-dry.

A cup of water would never be enough to quench this thirst. It would need flagons of cool, soothing water to ensure that the widow was happy, content, fulfilled.

Despite the physical thirst, the widow’s craving for justice against her adversary drove her on until finally the judge acquiesced, if only to get rid of this thorn in his side, this pest, this tormentor.

In Kiribati and Tuvalu our brothers and sisters – much like the widow – have called, beseeched and cried for justice as climate change slowly eats away at their island homes and saltwater slowly but surely seeps into the water table.

To the west in the Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea water sources have dried up and what little liquid there is to drink has been sullied and is not potable.

With weather patterns changing, the rains can no longer to relied upon to provide for people, plants and animals.

These are the real effects of climate change in the Pacific.

And for years the Pacific people have appealed to the developing world for a reduction in carbons emissions, less use of fossil fuels, and finance for mitigation and adaptation.

Much like the poor widow, the Pacific’s low-lying nations, bereft of solutions to their need for clean, fresh water sources have prayed for help from what is known as the Developed World.

Their prayers for justice have not been answered, their thirst remains unquenched. Yet they continue to trudge back time and again to ask as in Jesus’ parable: Grant me justice against my adversary.

It is a cry for a vacuum or an emptiness - a void - to be filled. She wishes to drink of justice that she may thirst no more.

Scholars say that justice in the original Greek is the word dikaiosune which can mean the virtue which gives each his due. A broader translation suggests that dikaiosune speaks to a doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved by God.

How does this speak to the Pacific today where so many small island states are surrounded by water yet have little or nothing to drink?

Within this vast, liquid continent the Pacific Ocean touches the shores of each island and the homes of a people who thirst not only for water but also for justice, for dikaiosune.

Justice and water for the Pacific people will soon be a matter of life or death.  The widow was willing to risk death in her pursuit of justice, her continued badgering of the judge who would have had the power to silence her, have her thrown in prison or much worse.

But the woman pushed for justice. We don’t know the nature of her adversity, the wrong she had been done. All Jesus says is the widow

Wants justice and will not give up.

In Deuteronomy 16: 20, Moses exhorts the people: Justice and only justice shall you follow that you might LIVE and inherit the land that Lord is giving you.

There is an implication that with justice comes life. Or, without justice there is but death.

Without water there can be but death for the human race.

The Hebrew word for justice in this verse is tzedek speaks of an implicit straightness, honesty or path of truth. The Aramaic tzdeik and Arabic tzadak mean – he told the truth.

We could, therefore, argue that Justice (what is just) is what is true or that justice is truth.

For those of us who have drunk from the spring of justice, who have potable water flowing daily from our taps, do we not have a duty to bring those life-giving waters to the people of the Pacific who yet thirst?

At the end of Jesus’ parable, the judge relents and allows the widow justice. The thirst is quenched.

But then Jesus asks: “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

For once the thirst is quenched, once the people are satisfied or fulfilled, it can be easy to fall into the trap of forgetting the adversity, the cry or the persistence we endured in the attempt to turn God’s attention to our plight.

In the pursuit of justice there is no doubt that God – in His time – will answer the prayers of his people. But we need to remain steadfast in our efforts and struggles.

Water, vital for life cannot be replaceable with anything. During this Holy week we remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. When he could not control anymore, even the son of man on the cross cried out loud, “I thirst”.  What about the most vulnerable people who are deprived of their access to water.

In the context of the Pacific, its people have suffered for decades as growing populations as lengthened dry spells, saltwater intrusion and growing populations put enormous strain on limited fresh water sources.

The community of faith in the Pacific has joined the struggle and thirsts just as much for access to water and freedom from the threat of Climate Change as the people of these low-lying islands and atolls.

Will we be conduits to channel the water Jesus promised to the Samaritan woman beside the well at Sychar so that others may never thirst again?

Questions for discussion

  1. As friends of the widow, how could we have recognised her thirst and used our influence to convince the judge to give her justice?
  2. How do we speak truth to power or how do we speak justice to the oppressor when our brothers and sisters yearn for access to clean, safe water?
  3. Can we share the thirst for truth and justice of others?

Actions

  1. During the holy week, if you are planning to fast, if your health permits, try a “water fast”.  All the while contemplate  the scarcity of water. When finally you break your water fast appreciate the life sustaining properties of water.
  2. Launch a campaign for justice around a local issue related to water through an online platform e.g., https://www.change.org /    or https://avaaz.org