What’s the buzz? Jesus stuns at the Feast of the Tabernacles.
In today’s Gospel from the Mass (John 7:40-53), the crowds are buzzing for Jesus has said something absolutely stunning. An excerpt:
When they heard these words, some of the people said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Christ.” But some said, “Is the Christ to come from Galilee?  Has not the scripture said that the Christ is descended from David, and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David was?”  So there was a division among the people over him…
There is a lot of commotion in Jerusalem over Jesus. Consider:
- The “words” that the crowds had heard (v. 40) are said by Jesus in verses 7:37-38: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”
- What do these cryptic words mean? Plenty.
- We must put Jesus’ words, like always, in the broader context of the Gospel; as the Church teaches, we must never “cherry pick” words, taking small excerpts out of context to support some point, to be “scripture twisters.” Rather, we are to read the Scriptures in the whole context of the overall story of Salvation History and with the sure guidance of the 2000 years of reflection given to us by the Church (see CCC 101-141 for the Church’s teaching on how to approach Sacred Scripture).
- Jesus is teaching at the Feast of the Tabernacles, a major Jewish feast. While it is beyond the scope of this post to fully explore the Feast (but you should learn about this feast, for understanding it is key to understanding the magnificent things Jesus does in John chapters 7-10), we’ll hit a couple of key points to put these passages in context.
- The Feast of the Tabernacles is a Jewish celebration and remembrance to recall God’s deliverance from Egypt and care while the Jews wandered in the wilderness (Lev 23:33-42). The feast lasts for 8 days. During the feast, the Jews were to build small booths, in remembrance of the shelters that they lived in during the Exodus.
- One part of the feast is the water libration ceremony: each morning for 7 days, the Jews gather at the Pool of Siloam and gather water. They sing psalms (113-118) and carry the water to the temple, mix it with wine and pour it on the altar, praying for God to be merciful in the coming year to provide the rains that are needed for life.
- In this context, Jesus has said the words: “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'”
- These words are highly charged, for at the very time that the Jews are praying for rain to God, Jesus says that they can come to Him to drink. This is a radical statement, one that would have shocked the people: Jesus is saying that He is God!
- Equally stunning: Jesus says, “He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, `Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'” The Scriptures that Jesus is referring to are three-fold: Num 20:10-13; Ezek 47:1-12; Zech 14:8. These scriptures prophesize that in the last days, living water will flow from the Temple and all the nations of the world will come to Temple to worship the Lord, who is the king of the Earth.
- In short, Jesus is saying that: 1) He is God, 2) the Scriptures are being fulfilled in Him, 3) the worship that that the Jews have been doing for over a thousand years are about Him, Jesus Christ.
It is no wonder that the Jews are buzzing and confused, trying to figure out what Jesus is saying.
We should also be stunned by the great drama and plan of the Divine Strategist. When we consider that it is Jesus, as a Person of the Trinity, who has told the Jews to initiate the Feast of the Tabernacles in the first place, and that the Jews had been celebrating this feast for over a thousand years, it is simply magnificent that Jesus would come and reveal the true meaning of their hopes and dreams in person at this feast.
We need to realize what Jesus is saying and be awed by His stunning revelation. And most of all, to respond to His spectacular promises with humility, awe and love.