revjoaquinwillisweb.gifRivers are symbols of challenge, rebirth and opportunity.  The River Jordan, locus of many scriptural events, changed the course of Israelite history.  In Joshua 4:1-18, the Jordan was a peril to be crossed to reach the Promised Land.  In Matthew 3:13-17, the Jordan was the site of Jesus’ baptism.

All rivers were a source of mystery to the ancients, and the subject of fables to explain their nature.  Jesus, in turn, used parables to explain the nature of God.  This method, say scholars, allowed each person to draw his or her own conclusions, and to better position himself or herself to enter the Kingdom of God.

A modern parable, “Down at the River,” from Craig Hill’s book, Living on the Third River, describes a mountain with a huge snowfield from which flowed three rivers. By the first river lived a man who believed he could never have enough water.  To ensure his supply, he built a dam to collect all the water he could. He succeeded only in creating a lake.

By the second river lived a man who believed he had ample water for his needs and did not build a dam.  He used all the water he could, and let the rest pass. He built swimming pools, water parks and beautiful fountains. 

By the third river lived a man who believed there was so much water in the mountain’s snowfield that no one person could use it all.   He dug canals for others.  Each year, he dug more canals, hiring people and equipment to get more water to his neighbors’ farms.   

The lesson of this parable tracks what Christ called, “The Great Commission.”  Water, like the Holy Spirit, must flow to allow our spiritual rivers to remain clean and fresh.  When we dam our rivers, they collect water and become lakes. Then they become stale and polluted.  

Parables cause us to examine our lives.  In Matthew 6:24, Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and Mammon.”  When we work only for money, we become servants of Mammon, the god of money.   Jesus teaches us that God, not money, will meet our needs.   Christ uses the sparrow and the lily to make this point.  Craig Hill calls the faith that God will provide because He loves us, “Sparrow Faith.” 

The man by the third river could differentiate between working for money and releasing money to work for him.  Often, when we give all that we have, we fear not having enough for ourselves.  With God’s love as our source, we will not perish from the loss of a job, a home or material possessions.  

God provided for Elijah, in I Kings 17, by sending a raven east of the Jordan to feed him.  God then sent  Elijah to Zerepath near the Mediterranean Sea, to be fed by a poor widow who used her last bit of food. Do you wonder why? It was not because God or Elijah intended to deplete the poor woman.  God was providing faith, making it known that He was the source of all provision. This is the faith capable of releasing miracles and making possible the bounty of living on the Third River. 

The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW 8th Ave., Miami.  To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or email the pastor at

Photo: Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis