When the lectionary uses the prophets as the source for the first reading, we often find that it is the last few verses that relay the intended message. For instance, today we hear from the Prophet Jeremiah, “They have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that hold no water.”
Cisterns were common in the Middle East. During the rainy season when water is plentiful, water is stored in a cistern for later use when the rains have ended. They were a vital necessity in areas where water is scarce or in hill country where wells could not be dug. So the image that Jeremiah uses to describe the children of Israel is particularly powerful. They have abandoned the source of living water and have only broken cisterns to fall back upon.
Human beings cannot last long without water. Jeremiah is preaching to a population that knows how vital water is. By comparing their relationship with God as a broken cistern, he is simply telling them that they will die unless they turn back to God. God had given them a land flowing with milk and honey. Instead of staying loyal to their covenant relationship, they have defiled their land with idolatry.
Like the Israelites of old, we have also been given so much. However, in so many cases, people are not satisfied with the rich and many blessings that God has bestowed on them. Instead, they have become greedy and constantly search for more. Such a life is futile. Eventually, like the broken cisterns of Jeremiah’s oracle, they will come up empty.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator