Jeremiah 2:4-13; Luke 14:1,7-14
Edward Tenner wrote a book entitled “Why Things Bite Back” exploring the idea that there is a shadow side to what seems a good idea at the time. He discusses such things as the importation of eucalyptus trees into California for the purpose of harvesting eucalyptus and oil and the disastrous impact that had on the intensity of bushfires in that area. In Australia we do not have to go far to see the impact the introduction of drought resistant buffel grass, cane toads and bunny rabbits have had on the environment. Good ideas, good intentions. Disastrous outcomes.
Human beings have a fatal flaw, the idea they are the centre of the universe and they hold within themselves all the wisdom necessary to solve the big questions, to distil the mystery down to logic and practical common sense and dispense with the natural wisdom of the world and of the worlds creator.
Sitting around a campfire in Alice Springs we each had taken turns to speak. The last two to speak were two local people, almost lost from our vision against the night sky. When it came to their turn, they spoke slowly, hesitantly, long pauses, each word chosen carefully and only what was necessary expressed. Unlike the rest of us who waxed lyrical, using words with ease and saying, often, more than need be said, they waited for the right word and the right time, in tune with something else other than the need to be heard. They spoke volumes to me.
How self centred we are to think by our use of words, opinions and ideas we somehow can circumvent the natural flow of things. Miriam Ungemerr comments that indigenous people speak little, think a lot. This is counter-wisdom, wisdom based on deep thinking, slow to act and careful in its application.
Growing up on a farm I got to know a lot about cisterns. You could say I was a cistern aficionado. I could tell you whether this design, that placement or that position was the most effective for a cistern.
Now in case you are thinking I am talking about toilets, I’m not.
A cistern is the equivalent, in Jeremiah’s time of a tank or a dam, a catchment for water constructed in appropriate places to water the shepherd’s flock. A properly constructed cistern ensured sufficient water would be available as required. One shoddily made, with cracks and holes would soon leak whatever water entered it, resulting in thirsty sheep and a frustrated shepherd.
Jeremiah takes this easily recognisable rural image and provides us with the counter wisdom by applying it to the action of the nation.
“12Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate, says theLord, 13for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”
Some time ago I heard an expert say, ‘ We have the best climate in which to grow rice, there just isn’t enough rainfall.” At the time I thought, there is something wrong with that statement.
Jeremiah says there is something wrong when people ignore what is right there available to them and go looking else where for something they already have. In rural life cisterns are of good use, but you would not be doing that if there was a flowing river nearby. You only dig a dam if there is no other alternative.
Jeremiah is pointing out they already have everything they need and they simply have to abandon their self-centred search for something better and dig deep into the fountain of living water available to all. It’s not a shallow dam, or even a river, it is a fountain flowing from the deep, full of life, power and vibrancy. All we have to do is allow it to be.
Imre Kirste, A Duke University regenerative biologist discovered, by accident, that baby mice who are subjected to two hours of silence everyday grow neurons faster than those who are provided with stimulus and activity. She had been trying to find out what the effect of activity would be and instead discovered that the impact of no stimulus was actually for greater and longer lasting.
Now whether this is the case in human beings is yet to be proven but it does challenge us to think about Jeremiah’s assertion that God is a living fountain bubbling up within, my indigenous friends as examplars of silence and the challenge silence is to the western psyche.
Silence is not just the lack of sound but it is the lack of the ego striving to be noticed and heard. Some people can say little, yet still not be silent. Every action, movement, word is designed to make a noise others can hear. The lack of stillness speaks volumes.
Jesus deals with this in the Gospel. Table protocol in a shamed based world was such that you never placed yourself in a place where you may be asked to move. Losing face was something to be avoided. Jesus reiterates this and everybody in the room nods with approval. Noisy people get there first, get the best seats and make sure everybody knows they are there. Not through words but actions. They are the ones who are the first to congratulate the speaker, they regale the key people with their stories and make sure everybody is aware of their special relationship with the important people.
Jesus encourages silence. If you really are important to the person in charge you will find yourself receiving an invite to move. If you are not, you may find yourself getting the same invite, not up but down, and be unhappy about it.
He also turns this around to those who are doing the inviting and the table seating. Again this can all be done with little noise, but the type of people invited can scream ego and noise. Jesus, don’t invite those who think they should be there, invite those who will be surprised to be there. Share your hospitality with those outside your circle, outside those who can invite you back sometime, lock down a deal, or fix a problem for you. Don’t be so noisy. Be silent in your action and it will be noticed.
What does that mean for us? As Christians in a world focussed on noise and words, action and activity we are challenged to reflect on what we say, what we listen to and what we do, not only what but why. Jeremiah and Jesus remind us our scheming to be noticed and to be heard can find us without the capacity to hear deep calling unto deep with in us, the fountain of living water capable of providing all we desire and more.
Too late we will find that success, wealth, celebrity status and more are broken cisterns and do not satisfy our longing to be heard and noticed. We already are. If we take the time to be silent, to sit still and to let go of the futile search for more, we will discover we are enough, we have enough and enough is more than the broken cistern and the seat at the top table.