Saturday, June 12, 2010

A cup of cold water

I have so much to learn before I am ready to become the king God has called and anointed me to be. I have learned to trust my shepherd-God, and I have learned to lead men, not just sheep, and I have learned that if I am to be treated as worthy of kingship when my turn comes, even now I must honour the worth of the kingship of the present ruler, even though he is Saul, my bitterest enemy. But tonight I learned a new lesson, and my heart is overwhelmed.

It all began with nostalgia. I was tired of being cooped up in a cave in the wilderness, and let’s be honest here, I was bored. Sometimes even being scared is better than that, when I am in danger I know that God is with me, protecting me. He has promised me the kingship, he will hold me safe in the hollow of his hand until every last part of his promise is fulfilled. But where is he in the midst of unrelenting tedium? And the wilderness is so tedious. Nothing to do but keep hidden from Saul, talk to my men, and gaze out at the cruel sunlight by day, the bitter stars at night. I am so tired of it—the best years of my youth skulking in the desert. Then I remember the story of Joseph, and I acknowledge that the ways of God are strange, but the promises of God will never fail.

But today had been a bad day, not for any special reason, but just because I had run out of reasons for it to be good day. Even the water tasted flat and dusty – well, truth be told, it always does taste flat and dusty here, but usually I am too glad to slake my thirst to worry about such niceties. After all, I am a soldier as well as a shepherd and a singer (and who knows what else I may well become before the end of this perplexing journey? But it was a bad day, and nothing would make me happy, and at last even the taste of water irritated me past bearing. When a man is angry with the flavour of water, you know that his heart is truly sick with frustration.
I thought back to my childhood, only a short while ago in years, but the distance is immeasurable. I remembered the freedom of the fields around Bethlehem, the slant of the light on the hills, the very smell of the place. I remembered the sweet, cold water, and, longing to recapture that freedom and joy, I said aloud, “ Oh that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!” And then, like a foolish child, I thought no more about it.

I was so self-absorbed I did not even notice them leave. Only later did I learn of their exploits, how the three of them – just three! – fought their way through the Philistine lines, reached the well, and brought me back a cup of cold water. It was madness, utter glorious madness, and when they returned, with the marks of battle on them, carrying that ridiculous water skin, I realised what they had done. I was so ashamed. They had risked their lives and laboured hard, just to satisfy my childish whim. What had I done? What had I become? Dear heaven, is that who they thought I was?

I could not drink it. They had laid their whole live on the line, and it seemed to me that it was no longer water, but their blood. I know there are kings in other lands who feed off their people, but may I never be such a one! My God is not like that, and I will not be either.And in that moment I saw what I had never before understood. The Law says that when we bring our sacrifice to the temple, we offer it to God and then feast on part of it ourselves. God does not feed on us, he feeds us. He himself in some sense is our living bread, he himself takes the foul and tainted water of our lives and turns it into the wine of the bridegroom. Our bread. Our wine. Our life. For if God takes a little from us, it is only in order that he may give to us all the more. And we must feed on him, or else we die.

I looked at the water skin. That water was a holy thing, it had been bought for me at a price I could neither deserve or repay. It is not for such as I to drink of holy things. Reverently, prayerfully, I poured it on the ground. Never, never must I ask for the heart’s blood of my people. Even in the dark, my men knew that I was weeping.

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