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The Parable of the Pump - Midweek Musing 10-18-2023

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 KJV

The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living. It’s our handle on what we can’t see.

Hebrews 11:1 The Message

Now faith is the assurance[a] of things hoped for, the conviction[b] of things not seen.

Hebrews 11:1 NRSVUE

a. Assurance can also be translated reality

b. Conviction can also be translated evidence

One of my favorite modern-day parables about walking the challenging walk of faith is found in a short story simply entitled “The Parable of the Pump.”

This story captures both the difficulty and the importance of making a leap of faith.

As the story is told, a man is lost in the desert. I don’t know how he got into that predicament, but that is where we find him when the story starts.

Of course, the longer he is wandering, the thirstier he gets. He moves beyond parched. He is almost completely dehydrated and is facing an increasing likelihood of the possibility of dying from thirst.

Suddenly, like a miracle from above, he finds an old rickety abandoned shack. Inside the walls of the shack, he discovers a water pump, a sealed jug of water, and a handwritten note.

The note said that there was a leather gasket in the pump, which needed to be saturated with water so the pump would be primed and the cool water from the aqueduct below would spring forth. The letter noted that the jug had just enough water for that purpose.

The letter included a warning that the finder should not drink from the jug, not even one sip, for every drop was needed to prime the pump. The note also instructed that after they drank what they needed to leave a full jug for the next weary traveler.

You can see the dilemma. If the man drank the jug of water, he would find temporary relief, but he would disable the pump. The jug would help but the odds were still great. It might not be enough.

If he believed the instructions and followed them, he would sacrifice the jug of water but would enable the pump to work. Of course, he could not know if the pump would still work. Perhaps it had rusted, or the well below had gone dry. He was thirsty right then and might be throwing away the little relief available.

But if he believed this note from an unnamed, unseen writer, then once working, the pump would give all the water he needed and even more for future travelers.

The parable never answers what this person did. It is one of those choose-your-own-ending stories where we must decide what happened.

Did he drink the water or prime the pump?

Was there water below if he did prime the pump, or was it some sort of sick prank?

The story leaves us with “what would you have done” thoughts.

To truly be saved, of course, the man needed to trust the instructions, and, in the face of uncertainty, he needed to believe. He needed to step out in faith. And not just step out but take a giant leap.

Put simply, to get all the water he needed, he needed to believe in something he could not see.

In commenting on Hebrews 11, Rev. Bryan J. Whitfield, who is the Professor and Chair of the Columbus Roberts Department of Religion at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia states the following:

First, faith provides a guarantee, the peg on which we hang our hopes. Because of faith, our hope is no flimsy dreaming; it has substance and reality. Faith provides a ground to which we may hold fast. But that grounding also orients us toward the future and gives us the courage to move forward, launching out into the unknown. The second dimension of faith is that it moves us forward.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paraphrased Paul this way. “Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase.”

Our Lord Jesus challenges us to do the same. Paul says it clearly to the readers of his letter, which we now refer to as Hebrews. “May we not be faithless but believing.”

Now, I can make no promises about pumps in the desert. But I am indeed convinced that we have access to living water that will never go dry if we but continually step out in faith, believing that the promised day of the kingdom of God is not a wish but a promise that is true even if we cannot see it on this side of heaven.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Alleluia, Amen.


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