Conduits of the Spirit
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.
When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.”
Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?”
They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.”
Conduits of the Spirit
In John 7-8, Jesus visits Jerusalem for the Festival of Sukkot (John 7:2). During the festivities, Temple priests drew water and poured it on the altar. Water called attention to the harvest and to prayers for God's blessing of the earth. The water libation was a particularly joyous time for worshipers attending the festival. So we can imagine Jesus' promises in verses 37-38 as happy words shouted to an already upbeat crowd. Interestingly, as so often happen in discussions, Jesus' teaching began to be lost around points of biblical interpretation, as well as incomplete information about Jesus' background.
"Living water" symbolizes the Holy Spirit (vs. 39), but in Jesus' times "there was no Spirit," that is, the Spirit had not yet been given to people. Jesus' death and resurrection became the great opening-up of the Spirit's gifts to believers everywhere, at all times. As water is indispensable for life, the Spirit is "living water" indispensable for our eternal life with God and our relationship with God right now.
In our Sunday school class a few years ago, our curriculum included this question: "In your prayer life, do you tend to address Jesus or the Holy Spirit more frequently?" Most classmates said they tended to invoke Jesus more often, and they more or less assumed the Holy Spirit was present in some way. But we are actually closer God now, thanks to the Spirit, than the people who knew and heard Jesus in the flesh! During Lent we should seek out the Spirit more deeply.
Not only that, but we can be conduits of the Spirit for others. Strictly speaking, we don't lead people to Christ, verbally or by our example; the Spirit does! Verse 38 promises that from our hearts flows God's Spirit: not just a little Spirit, but "rivers."
Lord, people of Jesus' time had difficulty opening their hearts to Jesus' words. During this Lenten season, help us to discover how we, too, are set in ways that close our hearts to aspects of your will. Amen.
Paul Stroble is an IGRC elder who writes curriculum for Cokesbury and teaches at Eden Theological Seminary.