24But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.
That little word ‘but’ matters. It reminds us that this sentence is in contrast to what is going on in Israel in these years before the Assyrian advance destroys the northern kingdom and subdues Judah.
I visited Yosemite this summer. It’s a drought year in California, one in a series of drought years. The snowpack in the mountains was only a small fraction of what it should have been.
Yosemite is difficult to describe to anyone who hasn’t been there. Those who have will understand why I use the word holy. Standing on the valley floor and looking up at the granite walls carved smooth by glaciers, soaring high into the sky – it overwhelms and inspires like a gothic cathedral. Indeed, one portion of the valley wall is called the Cathedral Spires. Half Dome, El Capitan, even the nameless walls, fill the human spirit with awe and wonder.
Added to the firm soaring granite is water. The Merced River winds through a great, lush green meadow on the valley floor, fed by water pouring down from dozens of falls: Bridal Veil Falls, casting its mist along the cliffs and above the trees like a veil; Yosemite Falls, floating through the air from great heights; the long climb to Vernal falls that surrounds you with mist and roar. In the spring, water flows down from every direction to the valley floor, cool, thundering, trickling, streaming, life-giving.
It’s not uncommon for the falls to grow thinner as the summer proceeds, fed as they are by the high mountain snowpack. But when I was there this year the falls were entirely dry. All of them. Not a drop. My nieces climbed down onto dry rocks from the footpath bridge that crosses over the river beneath Yosemite Falls. Every other time I have been there, the mist was overwhelming and the river rushing. Now there was nothing. No water in the river. No dampness in the soil. The girls walked up among house-sized boulders to the very base of the falls.
It was stunning. I wanted to tell the foreign visitors who had traveled thousands of miles to see these falls what an amazing sight it was. But they were not looking for rocks; they were seeking the overwhelming thunder and drenching mist of the falls in their fullness.
“Let justice roll down like waters.”
The language suggest the prophet has seen the falls that tumble from Mount Hermon, where the Jordan River begins, bringing life to the river valley. People who live in arid lands know the joy of thundering falls and the precious gift of a steady, ever-flowing river. Without water, the land withers. Without water, we perish.
“Let justice roll down like waters.” Let fidelity flow, an unending source of life. Let faithfulness to God and to one another be our constant, abundant stream. Let it not be a matter of chance whether you will find justice. Let there be no dry season for compassion, no drought of mercy. Let no one struck down by chance or illness go without home and care. Let no one lose their ancient inheritance, their family lands. Let brother come to the aid of brother. Let truth be spoken in the public square and love spoken in every home. Let us not draw from the stale water of private cisterns, but revel in ever-flowing public fountains.
“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.”
It is amazing to look upon drought, to stand in a dry riverbed, to walk beneath barren falls. But I was a tourist, a visitor; I did not have to live there where water was scarce and the threat of disastrous fire so dangerously high.
A drought of justice and faithfulness to one another is not the life God envisioned for his creation. It is not the life God seeks for his world. It is not the path God would have us walk.