By Michael Smith
A Reading from 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.”
In one place, the psalmist sings: “O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a barren and dry land where there is no water” (Ps. 63:1). In today’s gospel reading we hear Jesus answer that prayer: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink.”
There is a character in this story who must have been experiencing some spiritual thirst — Nicodemus. He appears only three times in the Gospel of John and is a rather mysterious figure as a cautious but interested observer of the teacher, Jesus. Who is this Jesus? Is he a prophet, or even the Messiah? The crowd is divided as to the answer, but Nicodemus has had a private conversation with Jesus and is pondering the question. Nicodemus is thirsty for living water.
Nicodemus had to be careful about being seen with Jesus because of his important work as a Jewish leader, a member of the Sanhedrin. He had approached Jesus under the cover of night and learned from him that “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above” (John 3:3). Now he somewhat defends Jesus in reminding his colleagues that “our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing.” In the end, Nicodemus will come out publicly as a follower of Jesus by going to retrieve the body of Jesus to prepare it for burial (John 19:39) in anticipation of the resurrection.
Each one of us must decide for ourselves who Jesus is. Is he a teacher or prophet, or is he the Messiah, the promised one of God? Nicodemus was deliberative but eventually made up his mind. With him, let us drink deeply of Jesus, the living water.
Michael G. Smith served as bishop of North Dakota for fifteen years and is currently the Assistant Bishop of Dallas. He works with the Navajoland Iona Collaborative and is a Benedictine Oblate and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
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