“Thirsty”

GOSPEL | JOHN 7:37-44

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,  38 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.’”  39 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.  40 When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.”  41 Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he?  42 Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?”  43 So there was a division in the crowd because of him.  44 Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me” (v.37)

Yesterday Jesus was crying out in the temple courts, explaining about his relationship with his Father; today he’s talking about his relationship with the Holy Spirit. We don’t get a clear, diagrammed Trinitarian theology here (wouldn’t that be convenient). What we get is Jesus giving a homily on a familiar Old Testament passage, and interpreting it in light of who he knows he is.

Jesus is quoting Isaiah:

“Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.” (Isaiah 55:1,3)

Jesus’ audience knows this passage well, but hearing Jesus speaking it about himself must have come as a surprise. As John records and crafts his Gospel, he sees quite clearly how Jesus is talking about the Holy Spirit. His authorial comments on Jesus’ teaching help us see how the Spirit is such an essential part of what Jesus is up to. As those listening to Jesus start to squabble about who they think Jesus is, whether or not he is actually the Messiah, John sees that the Spirit would become those “rivers of living water” that flow from “out of the believer’s heart,” giving new life and fresh understanding. Without the Spirit working inside us, we have no ability to understand the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. He is the agent that unites us to Christ, effecting our redemption.

As I read for my Systematic Theology course this morning, I was both admonished and encouraged by John Calvin:

But no one in this earthly prison of the body has sufficient strength to press on with due eagerness, and weakness so weighs down the greater number that, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun…And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him.

~John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, chapter 6.5

Calvin reminds me that it is the Spirit at work in me, who animates me and guides me, who is ultimately responsible for my spiritual growth; however, I am asked to participate. Calvin invites me anew, in spite of my “puny capacity,” to start, to put one foot forward, to strive.

As Lent continues, I find more and more that my spiritual inertia is less fighting my forward motion and is more helping me move forward. Yes, I am finding it easier to practice a consistent sacred rhythm, but I also recognize more and more that I am not doing this on my own. Thank God for the gift of his life-giving, illuminating Spirit at work within me.

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