By Sherry Black

Reading from the Gospel of John, 7:37-52

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, 38and 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.’” 39Now 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.

40 When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” 41Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? 42Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” 43So there was a division in the crowd because of him. 44Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

45 Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” 46The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” 47Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? 48Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49But this crowd, which does not know the law — they are accursed.” 50Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, 51”Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” 52They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”


Each day, during the revelry of the Feast of Booths, the priests would process to the Pool of Siloam, where they would draw water in a pitcher. Once back at the temple they would process around the altar, chanting, and then they would pour out the water as a sacrifice. This was a big annual celebration. And on the last day of the festival, the priests processed around the altar seven times, with the excitement and energy increasing each time.

At the peak of revelry, Jesus shouts out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let those who believe in me drink!” In contrast to the ritual of water poured out in remembrance of Moses’ water from the rock, Jesus is declaring himself as the one who provides. Emmanuel, offering life! God provides living water that quenches thirst. And this living water flows out of Jesus himself! Even more, as Jesus speaks of the coming Holy Spirit, he says that he is able to quench even our spiritual thirst for God.

And the crowds start arguing. Is he the prophet? Is he the Messiah? Nah, can’t be, he’s from Galilee. The chief priests and Pharisees also take issue with Jesus. Why didn’t the temple guard arrest Jesus? Because, as everyone knows, no prophet comes from Galilee.

In the midst of arguments about law and religion, tradition and messianic prophecy, Jesus brings the promise of the Holy Spirit. Jesus offers life, abundant life, flowing from God. Jesus offers freedom.

This promise has often made the custodians of religion nervous. But this is the origin and the end of the faith itself: Jesus bringing us into his own life, into the freedom of the children of God.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let those who believe in me drink!”

The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for nine years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.

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