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Sunday Reflection : Jesus, the living water and light of the world (Mar 11, 2018)

 

FIFTH SUNDAY OF LENT

 

Jesus, the living water and light of the world.

(John 7:37-39,8:12-20)

 

Bible Text:

Rivers of Living Water.

(7:37) On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. (38) Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’” (39) 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.

The Light of the World.

(8:12) Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (13) So the Pharisees said to him, “You testify on your own behalf, so your testimony cannot be verified.” (14) Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I do testify on my own behalf, my testimony can be verified, because I know where I came from and where I am going. But you do not know where I come from or where I am going. (15) You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone. (16) And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid, because I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me. (17) Even in your law it is written that the testimony of two men can be verified. (18) I testify on my behalf and so does the Father who sent me.” (19) So they said to him, “Where is your father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (20) He spoke these words while teaching in the treasury in the temple area. But no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

 

Interpretation

 

 (7:37) On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.

 

On the last and greatest day of the feast

The Jews annually celebrated three pilgrim feasts. The Israelites who lived in the Kingdom of Judah were required to make pilgrimage to the Temple of Jerusalem for these feasts. They were the Festival of Unleavened Bread (Passover), the Festival of Weeks (Pentecost) and the Festival of Tabernacles. (Deut. 16:16). Out of these, the feast mentioned here is the Feast of the Tabernacles. This feast lasted seven days. An eighth day was added later as the “greatest day”. The last day of the feast was the greatest day of the celebration when Jesus taught the passage.

 

The Feast of Tabernacles

This annual feast was also known as the Feast of Booths and Sukkot. The feast started on the 15th day of the seventh month, Tishri of the Hebrew calendar (late September to mid-October) and lasted for seven days. It began and ended with a special Sabbath day of rest and worship, thus constituting eight days. During the seven days of the feast, all Israelites left their home and lived in temporary tents or booths made of branches of trees outside to remind them how their ancestors lived in tabernacles for 40 years in the wilderness after God delivered them out of the “land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 23:39-43). It also was a feast of Messianic expectation that the Israelites prayed to God for the new Joshua (Jesus) to come and lead them to the Kingdom of God. By the month of Tishri, the fall harvest was completed and so Israelites joyfully celebrated and thanked God for the continued provision of rain and corps for them.

 

Many Biblical events are associated with the feast of the Tabernacles. Dedication of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings 8:2) was held at the feast of the Tabernacles. When the Israelites returned from Babylon to reconstruct the Temple of Jerusalem, it was on the seventh month that they listened to the Word of God read by Ezra and revived the feast of the Tabernacles that was discontinued from the days of Joshua who succeeded Moses. (Nehemiah 8). Some Bible scholars claim that the birth of Jesus (“the Word made his dwelling among us” John 1:14) and his second coming to establish the earthly kingdom are associated with the Feast of Tabernacles.

 

Jesus stood up and exclaimed

Jesus taught about the living water at a large gathering in the Holy Place of the Temple when the ritual of the feast was going on. So, he had to stand up, probably at an elevated position, and “cry” as a proclamation so all could listen and hear him.

 

Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.

Jesus points to the water pored on the altar as part of a ritual of the feast to teach the people on the  spiritual drink that he had to offer. The ritual of the feast of Tabernacles included a solemn procession with music every day morning from the Temple under the leadership of a priest to the pool of Siloam. The priest would fill a golden vase with water and carried back to the temple in procession amid the joyful songs of the people who would be holding branches of trees that they had used for making the tents for the feast.  The priest then poured the water on the western side of the altar of burnt-offering. In the meantime, another priest would be pouring wine as a drink-offering on the eastern side of the altar. During this time the pilgrims would be moving around the altar singing Psalms of Hallel (Alleluia) 113-118. This was repeated seven times on the seventh day remembering the procession done around the wall of Jericho carrying the Ark of the Covenant causing its fall and conquest of Jericho. So, this ritual of offering water on the altar was symbolic of God providing them water from rock in the wilderness and rain they have been receiving for abundant harvest.

 

The thirst that Jesus refers here is not the physical thirst. He had told the Samaritan woman who offered him water from the well: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13-14). Our spiritual thirst is the lack of the grace of God. Jesus fills this thirst with the Holy Spirit who will help us to overflow with good works for God in this world and that would eventually lead us to life eternal.

 

(38) Whoever believes in me, as scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’”

 

Living water reminds us of the life sustaining water God provided miraculously through Moses from the rock twice. (Exodus 17:6 and Numbers 20:11). In the gospel context, living water means the Holy Spirit. The believer will have the privilege to become source of the gifts of the Holy Spirit that he would be able to shower on others.

 

(39) 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.

 

The Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive

The believers of Jesus receive the Holy Spirit.

 

No Spirit yet

Though Holy Spirit had been active in different occasions in the world, the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles on the Day of Pentecost was an extraordinary one to equip the apostles for a special mission for Jesus. Holy Spirit dwelt on the Ark of the Covenant when it was in the Temple of Jerusalem that King Solomon built. This presence was lost when the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. It did not return to the temple built later under the leadership of Ezra and later by Herod the Great. The Holy Spirit came back on the Feast of Pentecost after the ascension of Jesus. (John 20:22).

 

Jesus had not yet been glorified

The Holy Spirit was waiting to come on the apostles after the glorification of Jesus. The glorification of Jesus was through his passion, death, resurrection and ascension into heaven to be at the right hand of his Father.

 

The Light of the World.

(8:12) Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 

Because the Feast of Tabernacle was one of the three pilgrim feasts, Jews used to bring offerings and tithes to the Temple. (Deuteronomy 16:16). Jesus proclaimed himself as the Light of the World at the treasury where people were presenting their tithes and other offerings. Since Jerusalem Temple was the only place for sacrifices for Jews, it was overcrowded during the main feasts. All the twenty-four divisions of priests were present to assist in the sacrificial duties considering the numerous sacrifices that were offered during the feast in the temple.

 

I am the light of the world.

Jesus again made use of the occasion of another ritual of the Feast of the Tabernacles to teach people that he was the light of the world. During the feast, the temple courtyard was illuminated with four large golden menorahs having seven torches each. These 28 big torches shed light to a wide area and was visible from all around the city as a “pillar of fire”. People used to sing and dance with musical instruments throughout the night until at daybreak when they start procession to the Pool of Siloam.

 

Lust like water drawing and poring on the altar was a grateful remembrance of the abundance of water God gave to their ancestors when they were thirsty in the wilderness, light from the four menorahs in the temple reminded them of the presence and guidance of God in the form of pillar of fire at night in the wilderness. Jesus said at the occasion that he is the light (not a light) of the world (not just in Jerusalem or for the Jews but for all people all over the world). Thus, Jesus replaced the four menorahs that illuminated the Holy place of the temple. Only one sun is necessary to illumine the world. So also, Jesus is the only source of spiritual light.

 

Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness

Just as the forefathers of Jews followed God who appeared to them as the pillar of fire in the wilderness, Jesus had appeared to the world as the guiding light. The world is in moral and spiritual darkness. So, there is the need of this guiding light like a lighthouse at night for the fishermen and naval boats.

 

Will have the light of life

Those who follow Jesus, the light of the world, will also become source of light because the grace of God will be with that person. This light leads to eternal life with God.

 

(13) So the Pharisees said to him, “You testify on your own behalf, so your testimony cannot be verified.”

 

According to the law of the Bible, there should be two or three witnesses to establish a truth.

 

(14) Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I do testify on my own behalf, my testimony can be verified, because I know where I came from and where I am going. But you do not know where I come from or where I am going.

 

Even if I do testify on my own behalf

Only humans need two or three witnesses. Jesus is also divine and equal to his Father. So, he could testify himself. The Pharisees did not accept his divinity.

 

My testimony can be verified

Jesus revealed realities of heaven for which there could not be any human witness. Since being God, he needed no witness because he is “the truth.” (John 14:6).

 

I know where I came from and where I am going

Only Jesus knew where he came from and where he was going at that time. So, Jesus could not produce a human witness to the Pharisees who questioned him. The place of his origin and his destination is heaven, where his Father is.

 

But you do not know where I come from or where I am going.

The Pharisees who questioned Jesus could see him only as a human. For them, Jesus was a son of Joseph and from Nazareth. They did not know that his passion, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven was his journey ahead. So, Pharisees could not understand the origin and destination of Jesus.

 

(15) You judge by appearances, but I do not judge anyone.

 

You judge by appearances

“You judge” means you condemn and renounce me according to human standards of external appearance.

 

I do not judge anyone

This seems to contradict the final judgement by Jesus. However, the meaning here is judgement at that time by worldly standards. Jesus first came to the world not to judge but to save the world and give opportunity for all to repent. Whereas, his next coming will be to judge the world.

 

The incident in between Jesus’ teaching of him as the living water and the light of the world, was the dismissal of the woman caught in adultery. (John 8:3-11). There he proved what he taught, by taking a nonjudgmental approach to that sinner saying: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin anymore.” (John 8:11). Oftentimes we hurry to judge others for which we have no right as Christians. Our call is to save the sinners by leading them to the stream of “Living Water” and “The Light of the World.” 

 

(16) And even if I should judge, my judgment is valid, because I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me.

 

Even if I should judge, my judgment is valid

Jesus was nonjudgmental at that time because he came as savior of the world. The response of the humans to his mission is judgmental for them because they either accept him for eternal reward or reject him for eternal destruction. That consequential judgement is valid because he is also the divine judge.

 

An example could be the denial of a medical treatment that would have saved a terminally ill person. The consequence of that rejection could lead to death. Jesus came with the lifesaving treatment of our souls. Rejection or acceptance of it is determining factor for our eternal destiny.

 

I am not alone, but it is I and the Father who sent me.

The Most Holy Trinity is indivisible because there is only one God. So, Jesus is not alone but His Father is with him and he acts also on behalf of his Father who sent him. Hence, the judgement that would follow from his mission would also be in communion with his Father.

 

(17) Even in your law it is written that the testimony of two men can be verified. (18) I testify on my behalf and so does the Father who sent me.”

 

Jesus used the term “in your law” can be confusing. He used it because his adversaries boasted on the Mosaic Law. Even according to that law given in Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15, there was only need of two or three witnesses. Jesus and his Father, both divine, formed two witnesses for his testimony and his judgement. The divine presence of his Father with him were specially revealed at his baptism and at the time of his transfiguration through the voice of the Father for which there were human witnesses.

 

 (19) So they said to him, “Where is your father?” Jesus answered, “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

 

The Pharisees could see only one person, Jesus. They could not physically see God as his Father. They were asking this in contempt and trying to get something to accuse him for blasphemy. But as usual, Jesus gave a prudent answer blaming of their ignorance of the divine.

 

(20) He spoke these words while teaching in the treasury in the temple area. But no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

 

The treasury in the temple area

The "treasury" in the temple was trumpet-shaped brazen chests located in the court of the women for offerings. They were 13, each with an inscription on the purpose of the offering. Many people gathered there to deposit the offering. The menorahs were lighted there. So, Jesus was teaching on “the light of the world” there.

 

But no one arrested him

The Sanhedrin met in the chamber between the court of women and the court of men. They were meeting to plot against Jesus when he was teaching at the treasury. (John 7:45-52).

 

His hour had not yet come

John the Evangelist added this clause because there might have been an unsuccessful attempt to arrest Jesus at that time. The hour of Jesus was the start time of his passion and death leading to his victorious resurrection and glorious ascension to his Father. That appointed time was determined by the Father. This shows that the sacrifice of Jesus was a willful act of God.

 

Message:

 

  1. Like the Israelites who were tested in the wilderness for forty years before their entry under the leadership of Joshua to the promised land, we are also in the world of trial with the expectation of entering the fullness of God’s kingdom under the leadership of the new Joshua, Jesus. Forty years was considered as a generation of man and a period of testing. Let us be vigilant that we do not fall into the temptation of ignoring God and objecting representatives of God like many Israelites did in the wilderness.

 

  1. God who kept the Israelites in the wilderness alive by providing them water and food even by unnatural means, is meeting all our needs on time even without our asking. Like the Israelites who thanked God through the feast of Tabernacles, let us also thank God for all the favors we receive from God.

 

  1. Jesus has provided us his Holy Spirit from the time of our baptism. Let us cooperate with the Spirit of God in us so that good Christian words and actions come out of our heart to the people around us.

 

  1. Like the pillar of fire that led the Israelites at night in the wilderness, Jesus, the light of the world is illuming us in the darkness of our life. Let us be reflectors of that light of Jesus to the world around us.

 

  1. Jesus came to give us opportunity to repent, and for that he gave his Holy Spirit as the living water and himself as the light of the world. We are awaiting his next coming when he will judge the world and reward the righteous. Let us act according to the teachings of Jesus and be united with his church so that we be counted among the righteous at the final judgement.

 

  1. Like Jesus, we should have a nonjudgmental approach to all. Oftentimes we misjudge others with our limited understanding. Our call is to save all for Jesus by leading them to the stream of “Living Water” and “The Light of the World.” 
 

History

History of St. Thomas SyroMalabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, established by His Holiness Pope John Paul II on March 13, 2001.

 

Liturgical Calendar

SyroMalabar Church Liturgical Seasons and Mass Readings in English and Malayalam

 

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