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. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’ 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.
When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, ‘This is really the prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Messiah.’ But some asked, ‘Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?’ So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, ‘Why did you not arrest him?’ The police answered, ‘Never has anyone spoken like this!’ Then the Pharisees replied, ‘Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.’ Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, ‘Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?’ They replied, ‘Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.’
Water is the most amazing substance. The fact that in most parts of the earth it exists as a liquid makes it incredibly unusual. Any molecule that small ought to be a gas – but the magic of hydrogen bonds (ask a science teacher) gives us the liquid that is the basis of life as we know it.
Whilst in our country we spend time complaining about an excess of the stuff, in the Middle East it’s a precious commodity. That is probably why there are so many powerful references to water in the scriptures, from the first chapter of Genesis to the last of Revelation.
A few chapters back, Jesus has already quietly offered a spring of living water to the Samaritan woman who he talked with at Jacob’s Well. And here, in the outer courts of the Jerusalem temple, he shouts out the offer to the crowds gathered for the festival. The Samaritan woman engages him in discussion about the right place to worship God – mountain or temple. Now as he stands within the courts of that temple, he offers living water to anyone who listens. God’s spirit is available to all, not just for the special people who can enter the holiest places.
Unlike the overwhelming Pentecost experience of the Spirit in fire, this is a spring, bubbling up inside the believer, constantly refreshing and invigorating; enough not only to refresh the individual, but to become a source of life to others.
I doubt that I’m the only person who feels that sometimes they are running on empty. I need to respond afresh to Jesus’ offer of living water, not just for myself, but so that I can share God’s life-giving spirit, the river of life, with those who I meet today.
Jesus, I am thirsty for your life. Fill me again with your living water. Refresh me with your spirit. Make me a source of life to others.
Jesus, we are thirsty for your justice. Fill us afresh with the water of life. Refresh us with your spirit, so that we, in our words and our actions bring signs of your life to the world. Amen
The Rev’d Clare Downing, Moderator of Wessex Synod and General Assembly Moderator (2020-22)