“Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah. And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?” He cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.” (Exodus 15:22-25a, NRSV)
I served as an intern Chaplain at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove, Illinois, from September of 2016 to February of 2017. There is a statue at the center of the main building in the Medical Center. The statue was made of wood and shows a man carrying a sick person on his shoulder, which is identified with Jesus the Healer in its powerful depiction of caring service. It shows us Jesus Christ, who draws all humankind into his mission of healing and benediction. All employees in the Medical Center, who come into the building through the employees’ entrance, may see the statue.
When I got there on the first day, I was very impressed. I wondered how one could design it like this: All employees pass by this statue whenever they come in and out of the building. I mean, all kinds of employees like doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, case managers, cooks, cleaners, and even volunteers in the hospital, they all pass by the statue when they go to their workplaces if they come in through the employee’s entrance. Also though they may come in other entries, they pass by the statue at least once a day because it stands on the center of the circular hallway of the main building. The statue reminds all employees that the Healer is not the doctors, not the nurses, or not any medications, but only Jesus Christ. It also makes all employees humble before God, even though they are tremendous experts on some points. The statute is the symbol that Jesus Christ is in the center of our lives.
When I read the scripture, Exodus 15:22-25a, I recalled the statue of Jesus the Healer. In the scripture, Moses, Miriam, and the Israelites have finished singing just now, which praise God after they have crossed over the Red Sea. It is time to journey on the wilderness toward the promised land of God. Moses leads the Israelites into the desert, and they go for three days without finding water. Imagine traveling on foot in the desert, going for three days without water. This was a life-threatening situation. Finally, they found some water, and their hopes looked to like to come to the truth, but their dreams disappeared in very short because it was the bitter water. It was undrinkable. The Israelites named the place “Marah,” which means “bitterness.”
We may notice some kinds of implications are here. The message for us is clear: Whatever the bitter obstacles that we encounter in life’s journey, we can count on God to transform them, to redeem them for good, as God leads us to Elim. When we cry our Marah out to God, God can “sweeten” them, that is, to make them drinkable, to turn them into a resource for the next step of our journey. God is big enough to deal with, redeem, and even transform whatever the problems we might face.
Who could judge the Israelites that they were lacking faith in God? Who may say that our faith is better than theirs if we might face that kind of situation? We all might be weak in the difficult circumstance like a life-threatening situation. We might be grumbling to God for thirsty, hungry, feeling sick, feeling cold, and all kinds of daily lives.
As Israelites had to be delivered from their grumbling, mumbling, bitter selves, we may need deliverance from our grumbling in our daily lives. We have to learn that God is set to bring about that deliverance and be patient, rather than grumbling. God brought the Israelites out of a Pharaoh-centered mindset to a God-centered mindset for walking with God toward the promised land of God.
Let us think that as soon as Moses threw a branch of the tree into the center of Marah, the bitterness turned to sweetness. This text makes it clear that the emphasis is on the transformation of the Israelites. As if when God’s word came to be among us, so we may see the light in the darkness. Jesus came to us as a human being to heal our bitterness in the world. If we put anything other than our Lord Jesus Christ in the center of our lives, we may grumble in our daily lives. Remember how the bitter water became sweet.
As you know, water is a resource of our lives which means we cannot live without water. This water heals us as well as it makes us live. The reason God transformed the water is to treat the Israelites. “I am the Lord who heals you.” God is the One who heals the heart, who can transform the bitter waters of the heart to waters of renewal. Again, notice that this internal transformation is the main point of the text, for God does not say, “I am the Lord, the One who heals the water,” but “I am the Lord who heals you.”
God transforms the heart through the words. The Gospel John says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. . ..” (John 1:14) Jesus is the source of our lives, the Living Words. As we receive and follow Jesus, as we become Jesus-centered, we discover a healing transformation being worked within our hearts. It is the internal journey from the bitter waters of Marah to the promised land.
As I mentioned about the statue Jesus the Healer in the Alexian Brothers Medical Center, we may put our Lord the Healer in the center of our lives. The statue is a symbol to remind all employees the Healer is only our Lord Jesus Christ, and you should put him in the center of your works. When we follow Jesus Christ as his disciples, we may transform our bitter situations in our lives, in our community, in our country, and in our world as God wants to heal us, to redeem us, and to restore us.
The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church teaches us, “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” To transform the world, we should put Jesus the Healer in the center of our lives because only our Lord Jesus Christ may change the bitter world to the sweet world. We hear much painful news about grumbling, shouting, fighting, and death. But, we know without God’s grace we cannot do anything. Let us listen to God’s Words, and put our Lord Jesus Christ the Healer in the center of our lives so that God heals all humans, all creatures, all communities, and all the nations