Give drink to the thirsty

| Father Michael Van Sloun | February 3, 2016 | 0 Comments

To give a drink to the thirsty is the second corporal work of mercy. It was named by Jesus when he spoke to his disciples about the judgment of the nations (Mt 25:31-46) and he mentioned it four times. This physical need goes hand-in-hand with feeding the hungry.

Over one-half of the average person’s body is made up of water. There is water in the cells, between the cells and in the blood vessels. Water needs to be resupplied each day because water is lost through the kidneys and urine, the lungs and respiration, the skin by diffusion and sweat, and the intestine by solid waste. Inadequate fluid intake leads to decreased saliva and thirst, loss of fluid volume and electrolyte imbalance. As dehydration worsens, it can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke and — in severe cases — even death. In light of the crucial role that water plays in health, it stands second on the list of corporal works of mercy.

Jesus highlighted the importance of giving a drink to the thirsty when he said, “Whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple, amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward” (Mt 10:42). Jesus considered it a good deed to give a drink to the apostles, his followers and missionaries, and Matthew considered it a good deed to give a drink to the members of his newly established Christian community. By extension, it is a good deed to give a drink to anyone, believer and nonbeliever alike.

To offer a drink is a gracious act of hospitality. It places the other person ahead of one’s self, and it is a simple and thoughtful expression of love. Jesus explained, “Whoever receives you receives me” (Mt 10:40a). When we give a drink to someone who is thirsty, we give a drink to Jesus himself, and when we love our neighbor, we love Jesus. Those who perform this work of mercy will receive a glorious reward, a place in the kingdom.

The foremost example in sacred Scripture of giving a drink to the thirsty is God’s miracle in the desert when Moses struck the rock and water flowed from it (Ex 17:6). God’s mercy reaches to the heavens (Ps 36:6), and it is through God’s mercy that we are given water to drink (Ps 36:9b).

Water is a precious commodity in the arid lands of the Bible. It was customary to offer water to a traveler immediately upon their arrival. The prophet Elijah made such a journey when he went from Israel to Zarephath of Sidon. When he reached his destination he asked a widow there, “Please bring me a small cupful of water to drink” (1 Kgs 17:10), and she did as Elijah had said (1 Kgs 17:15). In other biblical examples, Rebekah gave a drink to Abraham’s servant (Gen 24:18), Obadiah supplied drink to 100 prophets (1 Kgs 18:4), and Boaz had men fill vessels for Ruth (Ruth 2:9).

This corporal work of mercy is as easy as politely offering a guest, “Can I get you something to drink?” It can be done by giving a baby a bottle, pouring a glass of milk or giving ice chips to someone on their deathbed.

It is also important to avoid wasting water. Access to clean drinking water is a major problem in many places throughout the world, and other aspects of this work of mercy include wells, pipelines and water treatment facilities.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata.     

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Category: Year of Mercy