28 May 2010

John 7:37-39

"On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out 'Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.'" (v.37-38)


The 'great feast' referred to in this passage is the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths), which was a Jewish festival rich in symbolism and popular appeal. (It originally celebrated the completion of the harvest and commemorated the journey of the Jewish people in the wilderness from Egypt to Canaan.) As part of the festival, on each of the seven days of the feast a priest drew water from the pool of Siloam in Jerusalem in a golden flagon and brought it in procession to the Temple with the joyful sounding of a trumpet. There, the water was poured into a bowl beside the altar from which a tube took it to the base of the altar. Simultaneously, wine was poured through a similar bowl on the other side of the altar.

The Jerusalem Talmud (a collection of Jewish writings, thought to have been put together in the 4th or 5th centuries AD) connects the ceremonies and this Scripture with the Holy Spirit by asking the question "Why is the name of it called, 'The drawing out of water'?" and answering "Because of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, according to what is said: 'With joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.'"

Jesus' words need to be understood against this background. Up till now nothing has been recorded of his teaching at this feast, and his words in this chapter have so far been replies to the accusations of his foes. But now, at the culmination of the greatest feast of the Jewish year, he unfolds its significance in terms of the life that he came to bring. He takes the water symbolism of the feast and presses it into service as he speaks of the living water that he will bestow. The people are thinking of rain and of their bodily need. He turns their attention to the deep need of the soul and to the way he would supply it.

In chapter 4 of John's Gospel we have had references to the living water (verses 13-14), but only here is the explanation given of its significance in terms of the Holy Spirit. As we consider the descending Spirit, so we see another aspect of the nourishment and refreshment that is promised through the Spirit's power.

To Ponder

Reflect upon the way you live your life. What would life in all its fullness mean to you? Does it challenge you to make any changes?

The slogan of Christian Aid is "We believe in life before death". What does the concept of bringing life in all its fullness mean for the mission of the Church? Does your local church engage in any acts of mission and ministry that seek to enhance the lives of ordinary people? How?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Adrian Burdon

The Revd Dr Adrian Burdon is superintendent minister at Oxford Place Centre (part of the Leeds Methodist Mission), former mission partner to Tonga and founding member of the Leeds 'Street Chaplains' scheme..