Jesus at the Festival of Tabernacles
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”
41 Others said, “He is the Christ.”
Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.
Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders
45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”
46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.
47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”
50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”
52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”
Today’s gospel reading comes from the Gospel of John, and it comes at the end of a section of that gospel that tells about Jesus’ attendance at the Festival of Tabernacles, which was an annual festival held at harvest time – a sort of Hebrew version of our Thanksgiving holiday. In earlier parts of the story, we’re told that by this time, Jesus had started to attract a wide following, and that his brothers had encouraged him to make an appearance at the festival as a kind of promotional opportunity for his ministry. But of course, that kind of self-promotion wasn’t what Jesus understood his ministry on earth to be about. So instead, he went to Jerusalem quietly – “under the radar,” we might say. And once he got there, he went to the Temple and started teaching those who gathered around him.
John describes some of the controversy that had started to spring up around Jesus, with some people regarding him as a good man and an amazing teacher, while others had been convinced by the religious authorities that he was a ‘deceiver.’ John also reported that the rumor was circulating that the leadership wanted Jesus dead.
Today’s passage takes place on the final day of the festival. And in order to get the point of what’s happening, it’s important to know that one of the rituals of the Festival of Tabernacles involved publicly pouring out water before the worshipers. On this occasion, Jesus stepped forward before the assembled crowd and announced what he had told the Samaritan woman at the well – that he was the source of “living water” that would quench the spiritual thirst of those who experienced it. And what’s more, that this living water would allow those who drank it to become a spiritual spring flowing into the lives of others.
That’s a metaphor that we followers of Jesus should probably think about from time to time – that if we are really ‘drinking in’ the Holy Spirit as it flows out of the teaching of Jesus, then that Spirit will be flowing out of us as well, so that others will encounter it through us. Jesus didn’t intend that his followers would just receive his teachings and the Holy Spirit they open us to – but rather that we would become a conduit for those teachings and that Spirit to flow into the lives of others.
The last part of today’s reading tells more about the controversy that surrounded Jesus. Some people thought he was the Messiah (That’s what ‘Christ’ means.), while others pointed out that he came from Galilee. As we know, the prophets had foretold that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem. The people at the festival seem to have known that, but what they didn’t know was that Bethlehem is where Jesus had been born.
Eventually, even the temple guards who had been sent to arrest Jesus were so moved by the power of his teaching that they went back to the temple without him. The chief priests and the Pharisees criticized the guards for failing to arrest Jesus. But the only reason the Pharisees could give for Jesus to be arrested is that they and the other bigshots didn’t believe in him.
On the other hand, the common people who actually sat and listened to Jesus (apparently including these temple guards) found themselves deeply affected by his teachings. The bigshots found Jesus threatening to their power and privilege, but those who actually listened to him with open hearts found themselves drinking in the living water Jesus had talked about, and pouring out that living water for others – exactly as Jesus had said.
Let’s pray. Lord, we ask that you would open our hearts and minds so that the teachings of Jesus and the Holy Spirit that flows with them would fill us – and even overflow us into the lives of others, so they would come to experience the spiritual refreshment and new life only he can provide. Amen.
Grace and Peace,
(The other readings for today are Psalms 29 and 82; Genesis 25:19-34; and Hebrews 13:1-16.)