Pentecost and The Gospel reading of John 7:37-52, 8:12
For the Ancient Israelites, Pentecost was the Greek word used to refer to one of their major feasts called Shavuot in the Hebrew, or Festival of Weeks in English. According to Leviticus 23:15,16, the Festival of Weeks began on the morning after the Sabbath day of Passover and lasted for 7 weeks, 50 days in Hebrew counting. The 50th day was called Pentecost in the Greek language. For the Israelites, this festival commemorated God giving the Israelites the Torah and the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:1-17), the harvest, the bringing of First Fruits to the Temple, and other traditions were incorporated to commemorate this time of year.
The last week of the Festival of Weeks included a special commemoration called the Festival of Booths (Festival of Tabernacles in some English Translations of the Old Testament). The Booths (Tabernacles) were an English translation of a Hebrew word that referred to the temporary shelters that the Israelites lived in during their 40 years of wandering in the desert with very little food and water. In Leviticus 23:42, the Israelites were commanded to remember their ancestors’ 40 year struggle in the desert by constructing and living in these temporary shelters for the last seven days of the Festival of Weeks. On the last day of this 50 day period called, Pentecost, the Israelites held a celebration commemorating the emergence of their ancestors from the wilderness into the land of Canaan that was fruitful with plenty of rainfall for a successful harvest.
During this Hebrew festival in Jesus Christ’s time on earth, the festival had a strong liturgical emphasis on water and light to place the importance on God’s saving Grace in delivering the Israelites out of bondage and the wilderness into a land that was fruitful with plenty of rainfall. The priests lit large lamps in the Temple courtyard nightly and the priests made a daily procession from the temple in Jerusalem to the Pool of Siloam The Pool was fed by natural flowing spring water which would have qualified it as an important source of fresh water for the inhabitants that could also be used for ritual bathing. (In the Gospel Reading for the “man born blind”, John 9:1-38, the Pool of Siloam is where the “man born blind” was told to go and wash by Jesus Christ after He had anointed the man’s eyes to heal them. Before Jesus anointed the man’s eyes and told him to go and wash, he said to His disciples who were with him (John 9:5), “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world”). The Priests would draw their water from the Pool of Siloam for their water at the altar. As the priests processed to the Pool of Siloam to get their water, they would recite, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” from the Book of Isaiah 12:3. Pure water from the earliest of human history was always identified with its life-saving properties, with salvation, in ancient biblical texts. Josephus, an ancient Israelite historian, said that on the eighth day of the Feast of the Booths (Tabernacles), the sacrifices of a calf, a ram, seven lambs, and a kid in propitiation of sins were also made. This last day of the feast was an important day for the Israelites.
It was on this important day of the Israelites that Jesus takes the opportunity to make a public announcement about himself (John 7:37-52, 8:12) in a “loud voice… If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water…….…….I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life”. (In the Gospel reading for the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well (John 4:5-42), Jesus said something similar to her, “…Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” ) Jesus used the same light and water reference the Priests of Israel liturgically used during their festival so the people would understand that He was the Messiah.
The Holy Fathers of the Church indicate in their teachings that the liturgical emphasis of the large lamps in the Temple Courtyard and the water imagery used repeatedly throughout Scripture and during the Festival of the Israelites, prophesy the pouring out of the Holy Spirit at the first Christian Pentecost upon the Apostles and all those present 50 days after Jesus’ Resurrection (Acts 2:1-11). The Sacrament of Baptism followed by the Sacrament of Chrismation is the same pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the newly baptized person today.
Some comments from the Fathers of the Church on the Gospel passage of John 7:37-52, 8:12 follow:
· St. Cyprian, “…the Lord….is speaking of Baptism….by Baptism the Holy Spirit is received…and those who are baptized and have secured the Holy Spirit go on to drink the cup of the Lord….”.
· St. Irenaeus, “….the Holy Spirit…is the living water that the Lord supplies to those who rightly believe in Him….The Spirit flows in all of us”.
· St. Ambrose, “The river is the Holy Spirit…”.
· St. Cyril of Jerusalem, “drink of living water…this is what the Savior said of the Spirit which those who believe on Him should receive”.
· St. John Chrysostom, “Jesus is the light not only of Galilee, Palestine or Judea, but the whole world. “
· St. Theodore of Heraclea, “He calls himself light ….because he enlightens the souls of those who believe…….”
References: Antiquities of the Jews by Josephus; Holy Fathers of the Church Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture vol. IVA, Holy Fathers of the Church Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture V; NKJV.