Gospel for the Feast of Pentecost (4 June 2017)
Gospel Notes by Michael Whelan SM
(This is the reading for the Vigil)
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. (John 7:37-39 – NRSV)
“Within the context of a Jewish feast marked by libations and the promise of the coming Messiah who will repeat the Mosaic gift of water Jesus presents himself as the source of living water. He proposes another source of living water. No longer is there need to hold daily ritual lustrations, carrying water from the pool of Siloam. Jesus is the source of living water for all who believe in him (ean tis dipsa ... ho pisteuōn); he transcends the ritual of the Jewish feast. The only criteria for admission to the lifegiving refreshment of Jesus are movement toward Jesus (v. 37: erchesthō pros me) and faith in him (v. 38a: ho pisteuōn eis me). .... In Ezek 47:1–11 the lifegiving waters flowed from the Temple, the very center, the navel of Jerusalem and the earth (cf. Ezek 38:12; Jub. 8:19; b. Sanh. 37a). Jesus proclaims that the lifegiving waters flow from within him (ek tēs koilias autou. See note.). “John uses this word as a means to transfer the prophecy from the city to a person” (Barrett, Gospel 328). Jesus’ person is now the origin of lifegiving water. He perfects the symbol of the definitive mediation of God’s gift of water from the well of the Torah promised by the water celebrations of the feast of Tabernacles.” (Francis J Moloney SDB, The Gospel of John, The Liturgical Press, 1998, 252-3.)
On the last day of the festival: John has told us that Jesus went up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles – see 7:10. “With the Passover and Pentecost, (the Feast of Tabernacles (Booths) is) one of the great feasts of the Jewish year. By some critics it is supposed to have been originally a New Year festival, but in the earliest biblical accounts it is described as ‘the feast of ingathering, at the end of the year’ (Exod. 23:16), i.e. the harvest-home. It lasted for seven days (Deut. 16:13–15) and was followed by a solemn eighth day of ‘holy convocation’ (Lev. 23:33–6). During the feast the people dwelt in booths (i.e. ‘tabernacles’) in commemoration of the sojourn in the wilderness (Lev. 23:42–3; cf. Neh. 8:14–15). The last and greatest feast of the year in pre-exilic times, it was sometimes referred to simply as ‘the feast’ (cf. 1 Kgs. 8:2). By the NT period it had lost its primacy to the Feast of Passover; in modern Judaism it is less important among the autumnal ‘High Holidays’ than the New Year and Day of Atonement.” (F L Cross, & E A Livingstone, (Eds.), The Oxford dictionary of the Christian Church (3rd ed. rev.), Oxford University Press, 2005, 1584.)
“Let anyone who is thirsty ... water: “These four poetic lines of vss. 37–38 have been the occasion of protracted discussion and an immense literature.” (Raymond E Brown, The Gospel according to John (I–XII): Introduction, translation, and notes (Vol. 29), Yale University Press, 2008, 320.) It is not entirely clear who is the source of the “living water” – Christ or the believer? And it is also uncertain what passage of Scripture is cited in v.38. “Obviously, the answer to this question will reflect on the first question. The words quoted in John do not reflect exactly any one passage in MT or LXX, and so commentators have had to use a certain ingenuity in tracking down passages that are at least similar.” (Raymond E Brown, op cit, 321.)
the Spirit: “The symbolism whereby water stands for spirit seems strange to the Western mind but is well attested in Hebrew, as Audet, art. cit., has pointed out. Verbs applicable to water are used to describe the gift of the spirit, e.g., poured forth (Isa 44:3). The soul, nefeš (which can also be translated as “spirit”), was looked on as the seat of thirst, since nefeš seems originally to have meant “throat.” Isa 29:8 says, “A thirsty man dreams he is drinking but wakes up with a dry nefeš”; Ps 42:1–2: “As a hart longs for streams of water ... my nefeš thirsts for you, O God.” As OT background for the juxtaposition of ideas in John 7:38–39 (water from the belly=spirit), we may cite Prov 20:27: “The breath [another synonym for “spirit”] of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inner parts of his belly.” Nefeš, besides being the seat of thirst, is also the source of words, e.g., 1 Sam 1:15 says that Hannah has been pouring out her nefeš before the Lord in the words of her prayer (notice the water symbolism). This is background for our contention in the COMMENT that the water of vs. 38 stands both for the Spirit and for Jesus’ teaching.” (Raymond E Brown, op cit, 324.)
as yet there was no Spirit: This is not a theological statement about God but an existential statement about humanity. The Holy Spirit only becomes a reality for us after Jesus has been “glorified”.
God wants to love us – infinitely, unconditionally, everywhere, all the time. And the more we yield to God’s love, the more we are transformed. In fact, this is the central truth of divine revelation. It is exuberantly expressed in Psalm 136: “O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever.” The phrase – “his love (hesed) endures forever” – occurs no fewer than twenty six times in that one Psalm. Jesus evokes the memory of that Psalm, when he promises “rivers of living water .... “ Not jars or wells or creeks but rivers! What an image for people who live in a land and with a climate that remind them constantly that water is scarce, a most precious commodity to be farmed out carefully.
St Thomas Aquinas writes: “Bonum est diffusivum sui” (Summa Theologia I:27:5:ad2). “Goodness is diffusive of itself”. The greatest good is love. Thus, because God is God, God will not – God cannot – stop loving us. That love is infinite and unconditional and steadfast and it endures forever, simply because God is God. God’s love does not depend on us. God’s love is simply God being God. Do you want it? Get out of the way and let God be God in you.
The Christian Feast of Pentecost is a development of one of the great Feasts of Judaism – Shavuot. The Hebrew word Shavuot means “weeks”. The Feast of Shavuot is celebrated seven weeks after Passover – fifty days including the Feast of Passover. It is often referred to in English as the Feast of Weeks. In ancient Greek it was called Pentēkostē, "[the] fiftieth [day]". This Feast celebrates the Divine Choice – God calls Israel “my people” (see Exodus 3:10) – and the ratification of the Covenant with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is a Feast of rejoicing and thanksgiving. A major theme of the celebration is expressed in Psalm 136 – hesed, God’s steadfast love that is everlasting.
Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are celebrated by Christians at the Feast of Pentecost in the same way. We rejoice and give thanks for the manifestation of God’s steadfast love in Jesus. The Spirit – the very life of God – has been let loose in the world! This is our guarantee that love and truth and unity will triumph over hatred and lying and disunity. The Kingdom of God is among us!
To be a Christ person is to be one who is being transformed by the Divine Life: “The gift of the Holy Spirit is the presence in us of the glory which transforms us into his image.” (See “Spirit of God” in Xavier Léon-Dufour SJ, Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Geoffrey Chapman, 1972, 504.) St Paul writes to the community in Corinth: “And all of us.... are being transformed .... from one degree of glory to another” (2Corinthians 3:18).