This Week’s Gospel Readings: John 7:37 – 9:41
We experience the difficulty of believing continually. Yeshua speaks in exalted terms about his hidden identity. Yet the key word is hidden. Water and light, some of the images used here, are things all too common. We lose the ability to be amazed by them. Their wonder lies in their ability to give life.
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Yeshua speaks at the festival and afterward to the condition of unbelief. There are some who claim to “know,” and others who “don’t know,” but who instead say, “Now I see.”
A Few Highlights from the Greek and the Commentary
John 7:38 — potamoi ek taes koilias autou reusousin hudatos zōntos, ποταμοὶ ἐκ τῆς κοιλίας αὐτοῦ ῥεύσουσιν ὕδατος ζῶντος, “rivers will flow out of his inner being, living water.” In saying that this promise comes from “scripture,” Yeshua must be thinking of a chain of verses, forming a complex d’rash (sermon) on the blessings of God in the inner being. That is, there is no single verse that contains these words. But Isaiah 44:3 speaks of streams in the desert. Isaiah 55:1 invites the thirsty to drink. Isaiah 58:11 says Jerusalem will be a watered spring that never fails. And Zechariah 14:8 says living waters (fresh waters, not stagnant) will come up from under the temple mount and run toward the Dead Sea, making what was dead come to life. Yeshua seems to be referring to the whole set of promises God gave the people in exile and afterwards. Exile is not the end of Israel’s story. Yeshua makes this personal: alienation from God is not the end of our story. The prophets used water as the symbol, which makes sense in a dry land like Israel. This is about water as a source of life, not cleansing (though there is a separate theme for that other aspect of water in places like Ezekiel 36). We are spiritually and emotionally parched, but God can and will bring fresh water to us. We need to be open. It’s not so much that God withholds the water until we are open. It’s that we can’t receive it.
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John 8:12 — ego eimi to phōs tou kosmou, ἐγώ εἰμι τὸ φῶς τοῦ κόσμου, “I am the light of the world.” At Sukkot time (which is also know as the feast of tabernacles), they would light giant menorah’s in the temple courts. Light is a symbol of the purity and transcendence of God. The beauty and mystery of light compels wonder. Yeshua’s claim seems absurd on the face of it. During the moment he expresses this claim, he is a man and seems to be nothing more. But after he has returned from death, when he has gone up and away from this world, and has appeared from the heavens with his own divine glory, then the saying will make sense. Much of what Yeshua said was for people to understand later, seeds of knowledge planted that could only grow once we came to understand who he really is.
John 8:28 — hotan hupsōsaete ton huion tou anthrōpou, ὅταν ὑψώσητε τὸν υἱὸν τοῦ ἀνθρώπου, “when you lift up the Son of Man…” The Fourth Gospel speaks repeatedly of this lifting up in an image with two meanings. On the one hand, there are those who will lift up the son of man on a post, strung up to die in shame. On the other, there are those who will lift up the Son of Man with words of exaltation, feeling a connection with the sublime that is beyond us. Both acts, the cruel and the worshipful, achieve the aim of God. Those who seek to destroy Yeshua end up empowering him to show us that death is not the ultimate. Those who seek to honor Yeshua, to acknowledge and meditate on his greatness, promote the one thing in this world that can bring people peace. In accepting or rejecting him, God’s purpose is fulfilled, and he brings good out of every direction people choose to take. Yet ultimately the Son of Man will be revealed to every person and as it says, through Yeshua God will “reconcile ALL things to himself, whether on earth or in heaven” (Col 1:20).
John 8:58 — prin Abraam genesthai egō eimi, πρὶν Ἀβραὰμ γενέσθαι ἐγὼ εἰμί, “before Abraham existed, I am!” This statement does not come out of the blue. There has been a dialogue between Yeshua and his high-level critics in Jerusalem. To best understand how and why Yeshua can say something so far-fetched, so seemingly deranged, we should trace the conversation:
Yeshua to an audience of critics: “The truth [about me] will set you free!”
Yeshua’s critics: “As sons of Abraham, we are already free, so we don’t need this freedom you are offering.”
Yeshua: “Your cruel and monstrously greedy actions tell a different story: you are slaves of the sinful nature.”
Critics: “Nonsense, we are the sons of Abraham!”
Yeshua: “If that were true, you would act like him.”
Critics: “God is our one Father!”
Yeshua: “If that were true you would recognize when he is speaking with you.”
Critics: “You are a Samaritan! You have a demon!”
Yeshua: “It’s not a demon you are encountering, but rather, if you keep my word you will never die.”
Critics: “Everyone dies.”
Yeshua: “You will not, if you keep my words.”
Critics: “What? Do you think you are greater than our father Abraham?”
Yeshua: “I have true knowledge of God and so Abraham rejoiced to see my day.”
Critics: “You have not seen Abraham!”
Yeshua: “Before Abraham existed, I am!”
John 9:25 — tuphlos ōn arti blepō, τυφλὸς ὢν ἄρτι βλέπω, “I was blind; now I see.” The healed blind man confesses his ignorance and willingness to believe three times in this chapter (vss. 12, 25, 36) whereas Yeshua’s critics say things like, “You know this man was a sinner, don’t you?” “I don’t know,” responds the healed man, “but I know this: I was blind; now I see.” The limits of knowledge keep us in a state of need, a need for faith and hope. The answer comes to us in experiences, moments when we ignore the trivial and look for the sublime. Some “know” their religion is right while others “don’t know,” but they believe in the life-giving reality they experience with optimism and openness. Few will experience Yeshua as intensely as this healed blind man, but many have been able to say, “I was blind; now I see.”
Outlines of the Week, John 1:29-3:30
JOHN 7:37-52 Yeshua’s living water saying (37-39), the peoples’ uncomprehending deliberations about Messiah (40-44), division amongst the Jewish leaders and Nicodemus’ defense of Yeshua (45-52).
JOHN 8:1-11 Yeshua teaching again at the Temple (1-2), Jewish leaders lay a trap for Yeshua concerning capital punishment (3-6), Yeshua rejects their case (7-8), Yeshua sends the woman away with compassion and a warning (9-11).
JOHN 8:12-20 Yeshua’s light of the world saying (12), accusation that Yeshua testifies of himself (13), Yeshua’s answer: you know not where I come from, the Father testifies with me (14-16), two witnesses and Torah (17-18), knowing the Father (19-20).
JOHN 8:21-30 Yeshua speaks cryptically of his death (21-22), the leaders ask where he is going (23), you must believe that I AM (24), when I am lifted up you will know that I AM (25-28), I am always in union with the Father (29), many believed (30).
JOHN 8:31-59 Challenge to would-be disciples (31-32), people object that as sons of Abraham they are already free (33), Yeshua’s answer: those who act sinfully are slaves to sin (34-38), people object that they are sons of Abraham (39a), Yeshua’s answer: by not doing deeds of Abraham you prove otherwise (39b-41a), people object: God is our one father (41b), Yeshua’s answer: if that was true you would receive God’s words (42-47), people accuse Yeshua of being a Samaritan and having a demon (48), Yeshua’s answer: one who keeps my word will not die (49-51), people object that everyone dies (52a), Yeshua’s answer: you won’t if you keep my words (52b), people object: you are not greater than Abraham (53), Yeshua’s answer: I have true knowledge of God and Abraham rejoiced to to see my day (54-56), people object: you have not seen Abraham (57), Yeshua’s answer: before Abraham was born, I am (58), the people make a move to stone him (59).
JOHN 9:1-16 A question about a man born blind (1-5), Yeshua heals using clay and spittle (6-7), the neighbors do not believe this is the same man (8-13), the Pharisees denounce Yeshua as a Sabbath-breaker (14-16).
JOHN 9:17-41 The healed man’s faith (17), the leaders investigate (18-23), more testimony from the healed man (24-34), Yeshua’s assurance and teaching (35-39), blindness and judgment (40-41).
Read the full commentary on John 7:37 – 9:41. Click here.
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