by Dale Harris
(first appeared on Terra Incognita, June 4, 2009)
Apparently by the time the Jordan River reaches the Dead Sea these days--what with the nation of Israel diverting 60% of her flow, and the nation of Jordan allowing septic tanks to seep crap into her water basin, and the nation of Syria maintaining some 40 dams on her major tributary--by then there's little left but a putrid trickle of raw sewage.
Miles up stream, spiritual tourists still come to be baptized gloriously on the same banks where Jesus himself once fulfilled all righteousness; down stream, here, today, you couldn't enter the water without serious health risks.
Not that anyone would want to.
The stench, they say, is nauseating.
I get that this crisis is shrouded with all sorts of political and social issues that defy a quick fix. Like a serious water shortage in the nation of Jordan. Like decades of political strife that have prevented these nations from cooperating on a solution. Like climate change, and economics, and a rapidly collapsing water table across the Middle East.
I get all that. And this morning, to be honest, I had a warmer, longer, more luxurious shower than I needed to. So who am I to blog?
But still, seeing the Jordan river pillaged and polluted like this should pierce us to the heart. Because some two millennia ago, the people of Judea came out to this river when they heard John's voice crying in the wilderness: "The promises of Isaiah 40 are now being fulfilled!" This is where they were drenched with the same water that Israel miraculously crossed when the nation first entered the land under Joshua. Here they enacted the burning cry of their hearts: "We want to be made new as the people of God."
And this is the river where we caught our first glimpse of the one in whom and through whom God would fulfill all the Messianic promises of Isaiah 40. Here we first saw the Beloved Son on whom the Spirit rests, who would provide comfort for the harried exiles, renewal of the covenant people, straight paths for the Creator's reign over his creation.
But if we read Isaiah to the end, we see that when the Messiah reigns in righteousness over his people, it will mean restoration and healing for the hurting creation. The desert will burst into fecund, verdant, joyous life. Isaiah 41-- the same Isaiah 41 that Jesus' baptism was somehow meant to fulfill--Isaiah 41 says it like this: "I will make the rivers flow on barren heights... I will turn the desert into pools of water."
Somewhere, I think, Christians forgot that when we saw Jesus emerge dripping from the Jordan, we were witnessing good news not just for us, but for the whole of the broken creation.
And we need to remember. Because the tragedy of this dying river is being played out all over the planet right now, as our greed, waste, materialism and idolatries continue to pillage the rivers and lakes and wetlands of our world. (After it's quenched Las Vegas' decadent water fountains and California's thirsty vegetable gardens, the Colorado River doesn't even make it to the Gulf of California anymore.)
May the stench of the dirty Jordan teach us to long once again for that promised day when God will restore all things under the reign of his Christ; but may it also convict us that our life together as the baptized people of the Creator can and should translate into healing shalom for his creation today, even as we hope for his future Coming.