28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” NASU
At first glance one might ask, “What does the traditional Good Friday 5th Word on the Cross have to do with MLK?” Good question!
I delivered the 5th Word at Hartford Memorial Baptist Church on Good Friday, 2018. In that message, I included the following:
What are some of the implications of water and thirst?
- Water is the lifeblood that supports all living things: human beings, animal life and
- plants. Thirst is the basic response that asks for rehydration
- In Genesis, it started with water. In Genesis 1:1 there were the waters, and the Spirit was hovering above the waters
- The waters were one formless, empty void that Elohim separates by an
- expanse of atmosphere like the hole in a doughnut
- The waters above were called sky, and the waters below were called seas. God then separated the waters below and land/earth appeared
- Forms of life then began to appear and the land was a global tropical paradise requiring no clothing or protection due to the insulating effect of the upper and lower waters. This tropical paradise was severely damaged by the flood event
- The waters above came down as rain, depleting their beneficial atmospheric impact. The upper waters did not return, and surface waters increased from about 30 percent to 70 percent
- Weather and changing climates further negatively impacted an earth that had lost 40 percent of its land surface
- According to the biblical narratives, these factors drastically reduced mankind’s life longevity from almost 1,000 years to a top range of 70-100 years. The human body may have also experienced a flip in water/solids composition to mirror the earth, resulting in a deeper dependence on water, as these changes threatened ecological and physiological balances.
While these thoughts of Ken Harris probably seem highly speculative, my point is that the consequences of sin that impacted both the creation and flood events involved the presence of water. In the 21st century, we are faced with a cruel reality. A major focus has shifted from the pursuit of oil to the pursuit of global fresh-water resources.
Here in Michigan, the ongoing efforts of Nestle company to increase its harvesting of Michigan waters is worthy of notice. For a small administrative fee and other minimal costs, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality allows Nestle to pump hundreds of gallons of water per minute to its bottling plants. The citizens of Michigan are cut out of the deal. Nestle gets a relatively free ride economically.
Jesus’ cry on the cross signaled a painful reduction of body fluids. Dehydration was kicking in. Jesus’ cry was not just a cry for his body’s pain, but it was also a cry for all of creation. The oppressive powers that put Jesus on the cross are the same that put people in oppressive situations today when natural resources are weaponized.
MLK used water metaphors in his call for justice and equality for the poor and dispossessed. He quoted the prophet Amos:
24 “But let justice roll down like waters
And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. NASU
MLK was a voice for millions around the planet who possessed little or no voice. One might say that Dr. King raised his voice in the wilderness of greed, self-interest, resource exploitation and the global abuse of powers as the masses suffered with the thirst for justice and righteousness. Dr. King had seen the waters of justice and streams of righteousness restricted to a pitiful occasional drip-drop to keep the masses pacified and in check. It was not surprising that King’s voice earned him the same fate as Jesus – death at the hands of the powers.
In closing, groups like The Religious Leaders Forum have called for Detroit-area people of faith to honor the legacy of MLK by re-member-ing the ongoing, unjust water shut-offs and the rise of water and sewage costs. While many of our neighbors are being drowned by these injustices, Nestle is pumping billions of gallons of water, virtually free of cost, for corporate profit and sustainability. It would seem Nestle should pay for the water they sell and citizens should get a break. Where are the waters of justice? Where is the mighty stream of righteousness? Let’s not forget the residents of Flint!
MLK and Jesus would be grieved by what’s happening with water in Detroit and Flint.
The Rev. Dr. Kenneth E. Harris
President and Academic Dean
Ecumenical Theological Seminary