There can be no denying that Jesus was a masterful teacher. He not only knew what to say and how, he also knew when. In Vespers tonight I’ll be teaching from the seventh chapter of John’s Gospel. The setting for this chapter is Jerusalem at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. At this popular feast the Jews remembered the days their ancestors had spent wandering in the desert centuries before. They recalled how through Moses God brought forth water from a rock. Throughout the eight day festival water libations were offered to remind themselves of God’s provisions and also to offer prayers for rain.
John tells us that “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within.’” (7:37-38) At the precise time when the gift of water was the focus Jesus invited everyone to come to him and quench their thirst. What he offered them was not some beverage that would only momentarily slake their thirst; he offered them himself and the “living water” that alone can satisfy our greatest need. Those who received this gift of living water would then be able to draw from it and share the same gift with others.
Some believe that behind Jesus’ words is a prophecy found in Isaiah 58:11. “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” You also cannot read Jesus’ words without recalling his message to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:14, “…whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
An ever-flowing stream is a wonderful metaphor for the gift of life and salvation Jesus offers us. Picturing Jesus’ gift as just a cup of water is not adequate. I picture instead a stream not unlike the one shown above–a stream that is gushing. If we accept Jesus’ invitation to believe in him we will be filled with a source of living water that shall never cease. It will, in fact, be so abundant we won’t be able not to share it with others. If you get the privilege of seeing a swollen stream this spring, I hope you’ll stop and think about this. I have a feeling that is what the master teacher, Jesus, would want us to do.
(I took these two images of Gap Creek in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park earlier this month.)