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  • Writer's pictureElpidio Pezzella

Broken Cisterns

''For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water.''

(Jeremiah 2:13 NKJV)

That behind, it must have been a particularly dry season, and the cisterns that held the water reserves were now dry or at most contained slime, such as the one in the palace of Prince Malkiah into which Jeremiah will later be lowered (38:6). The prophet relies on this image to represent the spiritual condition of the people in general, and which concerned everyone: “Their nobles have sent their lads for water; They went to the cisterns and found no water. They returned with their vessels empty; They were ashamed and confounded and covered their heads” (14:3). Jeremiah leads his listeners in front of the many cisterns then in operation in the town: excavated and with the walls waterproofed with plaster, or obtained in natural cavities which, with their limestone walls, were a sort of large natural amphora. The drama of drought is explained not by the lack of rain, but by the fact that these have cracked and, therefore, unable to conserve rainwater. The first and serious mistake committed by the people is to have abandoned faith in the true God, "source of life" (Psalms 36:10), source of continuous living water, where they can draw when needed. The estrangement from the Lord is followed by the attempt to create water resources independently. We are witnessing this confrontation between the divine source of living water and a cistern with cracks that only retains moisture and mud. A sad and bitter conclusion is having to note that still today humanity loves slime compared to fresh water. We are faced with a reckless, almost crazy choice, but it is the one that many spiritually continue to make every day. The work of building the cisterns is in itself the negation of daily providence, similar to holding back the manna in the desert beyond what is necessary or like the raising of the Tower of Babel. The love of the past has slowly faded away: "I remember you, The kindness of your youth, The love of your betrothal, When you went after Me in the wilderness, In a land not sown" (2:2 ). Faith in God has its irrationality, it comes out of the fence of human logic, which would consider it a prudent choice to provide itself with cisterns to cope with drought, also because in Israel it did not rain for long periods. In God's eyes this is an act of betrayal against him. The purpose of a cistern is to collect and store water. The level is destined to drop only due to natural evaporation if no more water is constantly poured. The drama denounced by Jeremiah, however, is that the cisterns built are cracked. It is certainly not a condemnation of water works. In our reality, everything that provided us with a minimum of security has crumbled in recent years. Millions of cisterns have cracked first under a financial and then a health drought. In these conditions, any attempt to survive is useless. The illusion of having water to satisfy all kinds of thirst in our soul will soon prove tragic. The people rather than return and invoke their God, take the road to Egypt "to go and drink the waters of Scihor" (v. 18) or other rivers. The words of the prophet invite us to abandon a stale religiosity, apparently solid and capacious, but practically full of cracks and tragically muddy, if not downright arid and dry. To this he exhorts us to prefer a fresh and lively faith, as it is animated by the Spirit. What are we building? Where are we keeping our spirituality, in cathedrals, a work of man or in the temple of the Spirit? I am afraid, and I hope I am wrong, that we are giving greater importance to external containers rather than to our soul. Etty (Ester) Hillesum (Dutch Jew killed in Auschwitz at the age of 29) wrote in her diary: "Inside me there is a very deep source. And in that source there is God". Although far from any hypothetical concentration camp, but in the middle of an existential desert, we should like Etty recognize that God is in each of us as a very deep source, hidden from outside gaze. Unfortunately, on that source, for various reasons, we lay piles of rubble and sand, and the water struggles to flow, compressed under various doubts, anxieties, fears and torments that gradually weaken the spirit.

Dear friend, may these words be able to transport you near the city of Sycar in Samaria, where Jesus, sitting on the parapet of Jacob's well, and like the woman who came to draw water, addresses these words to you: "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:13-14).


Weekly Bible Reading

Plan #05

January 24, Exodus 9-11; Matthew 15:21-39

January 25, Exodus 12-13; Matthew 16

January 26, Exodus 14-15; Matthew 17

January 27, Exodus 16-18; Matthew 18:1-20

January 28, Exodus 19-20; Matthew 18:21-35

January 29, Exodus 21-22; Matthew 19

January 30, Exodus 23-24; Matthew 20:1-16

photo by gun4hire,

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