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Lent Fifth Sunday

Season of Lent

Fifth Sunday: John 7:37-39, 8:12-20
JESUS, THE LIVING WATER, AND THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

INTRODUCTION

Rain and drinking water are essential for human, animal, and vegetative life. Our spiritual life needs Holy Spirit, which is the living water Jesus has offered for us. Light was in the world before God created the sun, and other luminary bodies. It will continue even after they disappear. God is the source of light, and hence Jesus is also the source of light that illumines our spiritual darkness. Jesus declared that he is the light of the world. Let us live in the light of Jesus, who will lead us to his Father.

BIBLE TEXT

Rivers of Living Water.
(John 7:37) On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me; (38) and let him who believes in me drink, for Scripture says: Out of him shall flow streams of living water.” (39) Jesus was referring to the Spirit which those who believe in him were to receive; the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.

The Light of the World

(John 8:12) Jesus spoke to them again, “I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (13) The Pharisees replied, “Now you are speaking on your own behalf, your testimony is worthless.” (14) Then Jesus said, “Even though I bear witness to myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I have come from and where I am going. But you do not know where I came from or where I am going. (15) You judge by human standards; as for me, I judge no one. (16) But if I had to judge, my judgement would be valid for I am not alone, for the Father who sent me is with me. (17) In your Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid; (18) so I am bearing witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to me.” (19) They asked him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You do not know me or my Father; if you knew me, you would know my Father as well.” (20) Jesus said these things when he was teaching in the Temple area, in the place where they received the offerings. Yet no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

INTERPRETATION

(John 7:37) On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me.” 

On the last and greatest day of the feast
The Jews celebrated three pilgrim feasts every year. The Israelites, who lived in the Kingdom of Judah, must go 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. The Jews added an eighth day 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
The Jews called the Feast of Tabernacles also as the Feast of Booths and Sukkot. This 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 making up eight days. During the seven days of the feast, all Israelites left their homes and lived outside in temporary tents or booths made of tree branches to remind them how their ancestors lived in tents for 40 years in the wilderness after God delivered them out of Egypt (Leviticus 23:39-43). It also was a feast of Messianic expectation when the Israelites prayed for the new Joshua (Jesus) to come and establish the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. By the month of Tishri, the Israelites have completed the fall harvest. So they thanked God for the continued provision of rain and corps for them.

The Feast of the Tabernacles has a correlation with many Biblical events. King Solomon dedicated the first Temple during the Feast of the Tabernacles (1 Kings 8:2). When the Israelites returned from Babylon to reconstruct the Temple of Jerusalem, Ezra read the Word of God to the Jews in the seventh month. They then revived the feast of the Tabernacles that the Israelites had dropped from the days of Joshua (Nehemiah 8). Some Bible scholars associate the birth of Jesus with the Feast of Tabernacles referring to John 1:14, “the Word made his dwelling among us.” They believe that his second coming to establish the earthly kingdom will also happen on that feast day.

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

Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink.
Jesus pointed to the water the priest poured on the altar as part of the feast’s ritual, to instruct the people on the spiritual drink he offered to the faithful. The ritual of the Feast of Tabernacles included a solemn procession with music everyday morning from the Temple under the leadership of a priest to the pool of Siloam. He would fill a golden vase with water and carried back to the Temple in procession. The people accompanied him holding branches of trees they had used for making the tents and sing joyful songs. The priest then poured the water on the western side of the altar of burnt-offering. In the meantime, another priest would pour wine as a drink-offering on the eastern side of the altar. During this time, the pilgrims would move around the altar singing Psalms of Hallel (Alleluia) 113-118. They repeated this 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 the conquest of Jericho. So, this ritual of offering water on the altar was symbolic of God supplying them with water from the rock in the wilderness and rain they have been receiving for an abundant harvest.

The thirst that Jesus referred to here was not the physical thirst. He had told the Samaritan woman who offered him water from the well: “Whoever drinks of this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give will never be thirsty; for the water that 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 overflow with excellent works for God in this world. It will lead us to eternal life.

(38) “And let him who believes in me drink, for Scripture says: Out of him shall flow streams of living water.”

The living water reminds us of the life sustaining water God provided through Moses from the rock twice (Exodus 17:6 and Numbers 20:11). In the gospel context, living water means the Holy Spirit. The baptized will receive streams of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

(39) Jesus was referring to the Spirit which those who believe in him were to receive; the Spirit had not yet been given because Jesus had not yet been glorified.

The Spirit had not yet been given.
Though Holy Spirit had been active in various occasions in the world, the Spirit’s descend on the apostles on the Day of Pentecost was to empower them for the special mission of Jesus. Holy Spirit dwelt on the Ark of the Covenant when it was in the Temple of Jerusalem that King Solomon built. God discontinued this presence just before the Babylonians destroyed the Temple. It did not return to the Temple rebuilt under the leadership of Zerubbabel and later by King Herod the Great. The Holy Spirit came back on the Feast of Pentecost (John 20:22) and remains with the church.

Jesus had not yet been glorified.
The Holy Spirit was waiting to come on the apostles after the glorification of Jesus. That was through his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven followed by his sitting at the right hand of his Father.

The Light of the World

(John 8:12) Jesus spoke to them again, “I am the light of the world; anyone who 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 presented their tithes and other offerings. Since Jerusalem Temple was the only place for Jewish sacrifices, there was a massive crowd there during the main feasts. All the twenty-four divisions of priests served considering the many sacrifices to offer during the feast in the Temple.

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

Just like water drawing and pouring 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 a pillar of fire at night in the wilderness. Jesus said at that occasion that he is the light (not a light) of the world (not of Jerusalem or of the Jews, but of all people all over the world). Thus, Jesus replaced himself with the four menorahs that illuminated the Temple. Only one sun is necessary to illumine the earth. So also, Jesus is the only source of spiritual light.

Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness.
Just as the Israelites 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 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 sources of light because Jesus’ light will reflect through them like the moon reflects the sunlight to the earth at night. Jesus proclaimed during the sermon on the mountain, “You are the light of the world.” (Matthew 5:14). This light leads those in darkness to eternal life.

(13) The Pharisees replied, “Now you are speaking on your own behalf, your testimony is worthless.”

According to the Law, there should be two or three witnesses to establish a truth because all humans are not trustworthy 

(14) Then Jesus said, “Even though I bear witness to myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I have come from and where I am going. But you do not know where I came from or where I am going.”

Even though I bear witness to myself
Only humans need two or three witnesses. Jesus is also divine and equal to his Father. So, he could testify himself because the Father is with him. The Pharisees rejected his divinity.

My testimony is true.
Jesus revealed truths of heaven for which no human can witness. Since being God, he needed no witness because he is “the truth.” (John 14:6).

I know where I have come from and where I am going.
Only Jesus knew where he came from and where he was going. 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 Joseph’s son from Nazareth. They did not know his divine origin and that his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven are his return to where he came from.

(15) You judge by human standards; as for me, I judge no one.

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

I judge no one.
Is this a contradiction to Jesus’ last judgement? What he meant was the immediate judgement. Jesus first came to the world not to judge but to save the world and to 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 do not sin again.” (John 8:11). Often, we hurry to judge others for which we have no right. Our call is to save the sinners by leading them to the stream of “Living Water” and “The Light of the World.”

(16) But if I had to judge, my judgement would be valid for I am not alone, for the Father who sent me is with me.

But if I had to judge, my judgement would be valid.
Jesus was nonjudgmental because he came as savior of the world. The response of the humans to his mission is self-judgmental because they either accept him for their eternal reward or reject him for their 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 critically ill person. Such a rejection can lead to death. Jesus came with the lifesaving treatment for our souls. Rejection or acceptance of it is a determining factor for our eternal destiny.

I am not alone, for the Father who sent me is with 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) “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid; (18) so I am bearing witness to myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness to 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 need of only two or three witnesses. Jesus and his Father, both divine, formed two witnesses for his testimony and his judgement. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father revealed his divine presence with the Son to which John the Baptist was a human witness. At the time of his transfiguration on a mountain, the apostles Peter, James, and John experienced the divine glory along with the Father’s voice. So there were four human witnesses also to confirm his divinity.

(19) They asked him, “Where is your Father?” Jesus answered, “You do not know me or my Father; if you knew me, you would know my Father as well.”

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

(20) Jesus said these things when he was teaching in the Temple area, in the place where they received the offerings. Yet no one arrested him, because his hour had not yet come.

In the place where they received the offerings
The ‘treasury’ in the Temple was trumpet-shaped brazen chests in the court of women for offerings. They were 13, each with an inscription on the purpose of the offering. Many people gathered there to deposit their offering. The lighted menorahs illuminated the area. So, Jesus was teaching on ‘the light of the world’ there.

Yet 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). But they were afraid to arrest him there because of the presence of Jesus’ supporters.

His hour had not yet come.
John the Evangelist added this clause because there might have been an unsuccessful attempt to arrest Jesus. The hour of Jesus was the start time of his passion and death leading to his victorious resurrection and glorious ascension to his Father. The Father determined the appointed time. This shows that the sacrifice of Jesus was a willful act of God.

MESSAGE

1. God tested Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years before their entry under the leadership of Joshua to the promised land. We are also in the world of trial with our expectation of entering the fullness of God’s kingdom under the leadership of the new Joshua, Jesus. Israelites considered 40 years as one generation and a period of testing. Let us be watchful that we do not fall into Satan’s snares to ignore God and to oppose God’s representatives like many Israelites did in the wilderness.

2. God, who kept the Israelites in the wilderness alive by supplying them water and food even by unnatural means, is providing 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.

3. Jesus gave us his Holy Spirit at the time of our baptism. Let us cooperate with the Spirit of God in us so good words and actions come out of our hearts to the surrounding people.

4. Like the pillar of fire that led the Israelites at night in the wilderness, Jesus, the light of the world illumines us in the darkness of our lives. Let us be reflectors of that light to the world.

5. Jesus came to give us the 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 stay united with his church, so Jesus wound count us among the righteous at the last judgement.

6. Like Jesus, we should be nonjudgmental to all. Often, 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.”