December 3, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from John 7:37-39.
On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him,'” He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Here’s the context in which Jesus made his proclamation according to the New Jerome Biblical Commentary. “One the seventh day of Tabernacles, the priests took water from the spring of Siloam and circled the altar seven times. The crowd carried branches of myrtle and willow twigs tied with palm in the right hand and a citron or lemon in the left as signs of harvest. After the circumambulation the priest went up the ramp to the altar and poured water through a silver funnel onto the ground. Such a ritual would provide an appropriate setting for Jesus’ words.” Barclay adds, “The whole dramatic ceremony was a vivid thanksgiving for God’s good gift of water and an acted prayer for rain, and a memory of the water which sprang from the rock when they travelled through the wilderness.” He goes on, “It [Tabernacles] was not only thanksgiving for one harvest; it was glad thanksgiving for all the bounty of nature which made life possible and living happy….It was not only a time for the rich; it was laid down that the servant, the stranger, the widow and the poor were all to share in the universal joy.”
It’s interesting that Moloney in The Gospel of John disagrees. The last day of the festival was the eighth day. During the first seven days the symbols of light and water were central to various rituals. On the eighth day “when these symbols had been eliminated from the ceremony Jesus stood up and proclaimed in the Temple that he is the provider of water and the light of the world.” That interpretation sounds more like John to me. John was also making the point that whereas the prophet Ezekiel had said that Temple was the source of life-giving water, it was now Jesus who was its source.
At any rate the themes of the passage are the same: God’s gift of life-giving water in Jesus and universal joy for those who believe. Our souls thirst for union with God, for His gifts of love, peace and joy.
I get very confused about the Holy Spirit. It seems to be very present in the Hebrew Testament and Jesus refers to the Spirit a number of times in the gospels. John seems to have a different conception of the Spirit.
The New American Bible notes explain that the “Codex Vaticanus [one of the oldest manuscripts of the Greek Bible dating to the fourth century] and early Latin, Syriac, and Coptic versions add ‘given’ to “There was, of course, no Spirit yet given.” The notes go on to state that in John’s gospel, “the sending of the Spirit cannot take place until Jesus’ glorification through his death, resurrection, and ascension.” John Shelby Spong in The Fourth Gospel writes, “When Jesus invited his audience by saying: ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink’, it was, said this gospel writer, to understand the words that the prophet Isaiah had written hundred of year before, in which living water was a synonym for the life of the spirit.” Perhaps John’s understanding that the Spirit in the Hebrew scriptures was a harbinger of things to come, a warning from God to return to Him, as voiced through the prophets. Now, through belief in Jesus — life and death and resurrection — I have been given the opportunity to live in the Spirit all the time. The Spirit is no longer a messenger who comes and goes between God and man. It is my constant companion and the source of the living water that flows from within me, that flows from my joy in living the gospel, in living with Jesus in my heart.
Jesus is God’s gift of life-giving water and joy for those who believe. That is the wonderful proclamation that Jesus makes today.