Pentecost Sunday, Alternate Reading 2
May 31, 2020
Read the passage at the bottom of this post: John 7:37-39, The Message or John 7:37-39, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).
Verse 37. "The feast" here refers to the last of the three Jewish pilgrimages festivals / feasts, Sukkoth, or festival of Booths / Tabernacles. This text is being read on our Christian Day of Pentecost - which is the second of the pilgrimage festivals, Shavuot, or feast of Weeks. This detail is important simply to avoid confusing the two different festivals, and the time sequence.
Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh (Page 154, see footnote below.) comment that the Festival of Booths included prayers for winter rains and the renewal of sunlight. These two elements are addressed by Jesus:
- Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.
- I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.
Thus Jesus presents himself as the answer to the prayers being made.
The reference to "anyone who is thirsty" and "living water" have an interesting precursor in John 3, the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. And subsequently, in John 19:28 where Jesus on the cross says, "I am thirsty."
In John, "thirst" has the double meaning of literal thirst for real water and physical life; and "spiritual" thirst for a real relationship with God and eternal life.
It is this second sense that Jesus is constantly pointing to, and the emphasis on "living" (or "life giving") water. Water that imparts lasting vigor and vitality.
Thus, those who come to Jesus and trust him will have floods of life flowing out of them.
Verse 39 provides an explanatory aside about the Spirit who is yet to come until "Jesus was not yet glorified." When is Jesus glorified? When he is lifted up. Lifted up on the cross. And after declaring that his work is finished, Jesus passes on his spirit.
When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 19:30 NRSV
Although Jesus does actually die on the cross - John does not want us to be mistaken about that - John also wants us to not be mistaken into thinking that is all that is happening. It is very important to give this sentence a close reading.
First, notice that Jesus does NOT say, "I am finished." This is not a personal resignation and acceptance of his death. But what then is the "It" and how is it now "finished?" Well, the whole Gospel of John has been about almost entirely one thing: the enfleshed revealing of the glory of God which John speaks of at the beginning of his writing:
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.
John 1:14 NRSV
That work is now finished. But.
But notice that Jesus first bows his head. The usual sequence of dying is to first breathe one's last and then the head falls. But John reverses this sequence. Jesus is NOT drooping his head in death. As Malina and Rohrbaugh point out, the gesture of bowing one's head alludes to the action of royalty whose authority is so unchallenged that only this smallest of signs affirms an edict that changes the world.
The bowing of the head authorizes others to begin acting. But.
But notice that Jesus NOT gasp his last breath. Jesus gives up - or passes on - his Spirit. Those authorized to act now also receive the Spirit. Receiving the Spirit is NOT receiving personal / individualized energy and motivation. Receiving the Spirit is being joined into the community of the way of Jesus.
The Gospel of John is a book of signs: concrete objects and actions that point to a deeper truth. Bread, wine, water, flesh, light, friendship, love all of which point to the way, the truth and the life. John does NOT want us to have opinions, ideas, and information about these. John wants us to have them; to have them in all their fullness; in all their grace and truth.
The violent, unjust rulers of this world want us to look on the broken body of Jesus on the cross and become sad, discouraged, powerless, and afraid.
John wants us to look at the final revelation of the glory of God through Jesus lifted up and become joyful, courageous, empowered, and bonded to God.
The challenge for preachers is that these are not alternative narratives. It is not true that only one of them is real. Only one of them is true. They are both real, both true at the same time.
And yet, our human desire for a narrative with a victory of good over evil; life over death; love over hate is so strong that I would wager that 99% of Pentecost preachers will choose the post-Easter, risen-Christ passage of John 20:19-23 bestowing the Spirit. But it is this passage that reveals the glory of God - if you believe John.
Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Social-Science Commentary on the Gospel of John, see link below, page 154.
* Link to Amazon.com Bibliography for Bruce Malina, Richard Rohrbaugh, et. al., Social Science Commentary on ... The Synoptic Gospels; The Gospel of John; The Book of Acts; The Letters of Paul; The Book of Revelation; and others.
John 7:37-39 (NRSV)
37 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, 38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, 'Out of the believer's heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" 39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
John 7:37-39 (The Message)
37 On the final and climactic day of the Feast, Jesus took his stand. He cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Rivers of living water will brim and spill out of the depths of anyone who believes in me this way, just as the Scripture says." 39 (He said this in regard to the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were about to receive. The Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.)
Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
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