“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them”. So Jesus claims in John 7:37-8. What Scripture is he talking about? There is no direct quotation, so I think it refers to Ezekiel 47, which speaks of a river from the Temple, moving from the altar and getting deeper and deeper as it travelled further towards the Jordan valley – becoming eventually a great river that no-one could cross. It watered fruit trees on either side – the Tree of Life – and emptied into the Dead Sea, where it miraculously made the salt water fresh and an environment for fish to live in and thrive again. In short: the waters from the Temple brought life to the surrounding world.
Jesus says to us that if we drink of him, we become that Temple that produces the waters of life; too abundant just for our needs, they overflow into a thirsty world and bring miraculous life to every place and every creature they come into contact with. As we thirst and drink of him, the abundance of life that he creates in us overflows to others who thirst, producing superabundant life. We all know from experience that it is very hard to convince others of what you are barely convinced about yourself. So we go to Jesus and drink – both for our own needs and for the needs of others.
This key passage on ‘water’ is also an echo of John 4, the encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria. “Whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water that I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”. In the UK, the population has been described medically as ‘chronically’ dehydrated – we just don’t drink enough – and this causes many unwanted problems, including obesity (we eat because we think we are hungry when, in reality, we are thirsty). I wonder whether, in Christian circles, we are spiritually dehydrated and have become so used to it that we no longer notice the difference. Perhaps a year-long programme of spiritual re-hydration is called for!
Before and after the ‘water’ section of this chapter, there is widespread debate about who Jesus was and whether his teaching was true. Jesus actually gave a simple answer: “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (v17). Theology is best tested by being practised, rather than debated!
Verse 52: “Look into it” – the Jews mocked – “and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee”. Well, Jonah did! And, of course, the Messiah did too. But the crowd did not know that he had also come from Bethlehem, the town of his birth. It is easy to judge without being in full possession of the facts.