bible blog 1272

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Letionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:

DESPERATION AT POVERTY AND CORRUPTION INFLAMES BOSNIA

Demo in Tuzla

Demo in Tuzla

John 7:37-52

Complete Jewish Bible (CJB)

37 Now on the last day of the festival, Hoshana Rabbah, Yeshua stood and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him keep coming to me and drinking! 38 Whoever puts his trust in me, as the Scripture says, rivers of living water will flow from his inmost being!” 39 (Now he said this about the Spirit, whom those who trusted in him were to receive later — the Spirit had not yet been given, because Yeshua had not yet been glorified.)

40 On hearing his words, some people in the crowd said, “Surely this man is ‘the prophet’”; 41 others said, “This is the Messiah.” But others said, “How can the Messiah come from the Galil? 42 Doesn’t the Tanakh say that the Messiah is from the seed of David[a] and comes from Beit-Lechem,[b] the village where David lived?” 43 So the people were divided because of him. 44 Some wanted to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him.

45 The guards came back to the head cohanim and the P’rushim, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?” 46 The guards replied, “No one ever spoke the way this man speaks!” 47 “You mean you’ve been taken in as well?” the P’rushim retorted. 48 “Has any of the authorities trusted him? Or any of the P’rushim? No! 49 True, these ‘am-ha’aretz do, but they know nothing about the Torah, they are under a curse!”

50 Nakdimon, the man who had gone to Yeshua before and was one of them, said to them, 51 “Our Torah doesn’t condemn a man — does it? — until after hearing from him and finding out what he’s doing.” 52 They replied, “You aren’t from the Galil too, are you? Study the Tanakh, and see for yourself that no prophet comes from the Galil!” [c]

The pool of Siloam

The pool of Siloam

I’ve given this passage in the Complete Jewish Bible translation. Indeed it’s a bit more than a translation since it seeks out the original Hebrew words which lie behind the Greek of the New Testament text. (readers will guess most of these: the Tanakh is the Hebrew Bible; the cohanim and p’rushim are priests and pharisees). Even the authors of the New Testament books began a process of moving away from the Jewish culture of Christian faith in order to make it accessible to people all round the world. The changes they made helped to preserve the connection between faith in Jesus and the faith of Jesus and his people.

That said, it’s good to be faced with the Hebrew terms so that the connection is made explicit. It’s always good to remember that Jesus wasn’t a Christian. 

John has fashioned a narrative which has as its background the Jewish festival of Booths, commemorating the 4o years Israel spent with Moses in the wilderness. Two elements of the celebrations are especially important to John: the water that came from the rock and the pillar of fire which accompanied the people at night.  John has already shown Jesus describing himself as the source of living water (in the story of the woman at the well), and in chapter nine he is revealed as the light of the world. John is using his narrative skill to identify Jesus not only with Moses and with the God of Moses; but perhaps also to identify the ministry of Jesus with the testing of Israel in the wilderness, prior to the entry to the promised land. 

On the last day of the feast the priests took water from the pool of Siloam, carried it in procession around the altar and poured it out ceremonially, while the people carried branches and fruit as sign of the harvest. It was a celebration of God’s gift of life in the harvest. This is the setting for Jesus’ passionate invitation for thirsty people to come to him for living water, which will become so much part of them that they themselves will be sources of life for others. John or perhaps an early editor of John’s Gospel adds that this is the gift of the Spirit which strictly speaking was only given after Jesus resurrection. This is to ignore the explicit teaching that the Spirit is a kind of substitute for Jesus.

The background of this Festival more generally links the ministry of Jesus with harvestime, fruitfulness and celebration. John is deliberately building a very rich web of associations for the kind of life that Jesus offers: it is part of the liberation from slavery,and therefore testing; it is fresh, alive and life-giving like the water in the desert or the rains on the crops; and it is fruitful, satisfying the needs of human beings.  

The learned argument about the Messiah is of course John’s version of the kind of opposition that Jesus faced. In ironical fashion the Pharisees are made to reject Jesus on grounds which should have led them to approve him: he was “of the seed of David and was born in Beit-Lechem”. The am ha aretz, the ignorant people of the land, who trust Jesus, are dismissed as cursed fools. The very idea of a prophet from The Galil (Galilee) is ridiculous in their eyes.

Galilee

Galilee

Against all the controversy and theological debate, there is Jesus’ simple offer of life. 

The church of Jesus today should maybe take this passage to heart. Of course there are arguments within the churches and between the churches and their secular societies about the precise status of Jesus. These are of no importance if the churches cannot offer fruitful life in the name of Jesus and make this offer real. Can Jesus do for people what it says on the tin? If not, the game’s a bogey (finished, kaput, in the language of Scottish children). There’s a play by John Osborne where a character says of Christian faith, that “no one would buy a Hoover which not only fails to beat as it sweeps as it cleans but actually blows the bloody dust all over the room.”

Even as we attempt to avoid using ourselves as examples, Christian people ought to be able to say, “Yes, when I have kept drinking what Jesus offers, rivers of water have flowed from my inmost being.” The language seems a bit extravagant for a life like mine, but yes, when I’m refreshed by Jesus’ spirit, I become fruitful; for a while anyway, until I neglect the refreshment.

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