Thursday was Epiphany, the day set aside by many in the Christian Church as the traditional day of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.
According to many reports unless Jordan, Syria and Israel take drastic, concerted action, the Jordan River may soon be a thing of the past. According to recent studies, the river now carries 95 percent less water than it did 50 years ago. Much of the river flows at a mere trickle and in many places one can walk across the river without the aid of divine intervention through water only 2-3 inches deep. In some places the river disappears altogether and some experts warn that large stretches of the river will vanish in 2011, the result of diversion of the river for agricultural purposes and the decision of the Syrian government to dam a portion of the headwaters of the river for its own purposes.
Added to the critical loss of water (The Dead Sea into which the Jordan River flows has lost one-third of its surface area.) is the equally crucial disaster of pollution. Many factories and water treatment plants dumped unclean water into the Jordan River for decades. The Israeli government, according to one website I consulted, forbids pilgrims to seek baptism at the site where Israel says Jesus was baptized; the water is unsafe.
An effort to halt the dumping of polluted water into the Jordan has resulted in the unintended side-effect of the river now receiving even less water than before. In many ways the dilemma of the Jordan River reminds me of the water wars between Alabama, Georgia and Florida over the use of Georgia's reservoirs and the Chattahoochee River.
As far as the precise location where Jesus was baptized, nobody knows for sure where this spot was. The descriptions from the gospel accounts are very imprecise, thus leading to multiple claims of authenticity. Not surprisingly, both Jordan and Israel claim that it was on their side of the Jordan River from which Jesus walked out into the water for this transformative experience.
It is imperative that the nations bordering the Jordan River work together to save this historic waterway. This prominent biblical river with its once verdant thickets and plentiful wildlife is now more like a drainage canal or a dirty meandering creek than a lifegiving source of pleasure.
Unless the reports are overstated, the endangered Jordan River may need divine intervention. Somewhere along the banks of that once mighty Jordan River Jesus waded into the water and was "anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power" so that he was able to "do good and heal all who were under the power of the devil." (Acts 10: 38) It appears that the river itself that is now being assaulted by that diabolical power, and very much in need of some miraculous cooperation in a notoriously uncooperative region.
Contact the Rev. Creede Hinshaw at Wesley Monumental United Methodist Church in Savannah at firstname.lastname@example.org.