As we have been working our way through the text, this week’s reading according to Talbert is the 6th of seven episodes where Jesus is portrayed as fulfilling/superseding some aspect of Jewish worship. Moloney sees this is the 2nd of four feasts where Jesus fulfills/supersedes some aspect of Jewish worship. Talbert’s episodes up to our text for this week are as follows:
1. Jn. 2:13-21 the cleansing of temple – Jesus supersedes/fulfills the ritual sacrifice (Jn. 1:29)
2. Jn. 3:21-4:3 – Jewish is baptizing more than John, he is fulfilling/superseding Jewish purification water rites.
3. Jn. 4:4-54 –Jesus fulfills traditional worship in whatever form
4. Jn. 5:1-47 – Jesus fulfills/supersedes the Sabbath as the apprentice, dependent Son the giver of life and judgment
5. Jn. 6 at the Passover, Jesus fulfills/supersedes Passover, he is the true manna from heaven
6. Jn. 7-9 at Tabernacles, Jesus fulfills/supersedes the water and light ceremonies of this feast. The Tabernacles Feast was a vivid reminder of the Israelite’s time in the wilderness, and the water ceremony would have reminded the worshipers of the care and substance of God in the wilderness, particularly the water provided at the rock. But, Talbert points out, that water ceremony “also pointed forward to the Messianic era when there would be an abundance of water (Ezek 47:1-2; Joel 3:18; Zech 14:8) (Talbert, 155).
What I found fascinating here was that Talbert points out the “expectation of living water is sometimes connected with the gift of the Spirit (Isa 44:3; Joel 2:28) (Talbert, 155). Even though the Spirit has not been given yet in John’s gospel, that Jesus, the one who fulfills some traditional aspect of Jewish worship is offering living water, is the one who would give the Spirit.
The Light ceremony of Tabernacles as the backdrop for Jesus words, “I am the light of the world,” helps us again to see Jesus as the fulfillment of the hope of Tabernacles. Talbert (158) says that the light from the candlesticks in the temple illuminated the entirety of Jerusalem. Similar to the water ceremony, the light ceremony looked backward and forward. Looking back, the time of wandering in the wilderness and a reminder of the pillar of fire (Exod 13:21; 14:24; 40:38). Looking forward to the end time, when it was believed that the pillar of fire and cloud would return (Isa 4:5). Along with the use of the “ego eimi” in this chapter, particularly verse 58, Jesus has just definitively declared his divinity (cf. 1:14). He is the presence of God on earth (1:51), and now he is creating a new community (1:19-1:51), a community of followers that will worship in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:23).
I also want to mention the timetable of Jesus. As chapter seven opens Jesus is being provoked by his brothers, asking him if he were going to be going up to or at the Feast (Tabernacles). In Johannine fashion, there is misunderstanding and irony here in Jesus’ brother’s words. They use the langue going up in a lower sense, and Jesus understands going up in a higher sense (Jn. 3:13-15). Yes, Jesus would be going up at a feast, but his time was not now. Jesus, the dependent son/apprentice has already spoken to doing what he sees his father saying and doing. For Jesus, his agenda is to do and say what the Father says and does (Jn. 5:19; 5:15). He does go to the Feast of Booths, but it is not under the compulsion of dictation of his brothers or anyone else for that matter (Jn. 2:3-5).
All through John’s gospel, the disciples, the Jews, the crowds, and others all wrestle with the identity of Jesus. Chapter seven is no different. The people are wondering who Jesus is and where is from, on in chapter eight. The readers of the Johannine community would of course know that Jesus is from the Father, that he preexisted, and that his human origin is indeed descended from David (7:41-42). In chapter nine, as if to answer the questions of his identity, Jesus once again performs a miracle, and we see a blind man come to faith in Jesus in stages, if you will. The ex-blind man’s statement in 9:33 should have been a wake up call to the Pharisees, “if this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” A question I have here is, is it wrong to see here in echo of Luke 4:17-19 and even allusion to Isaiah 61? Also, the uniqueness of the miracle performed in chapter nine, really is commentary on John 8:12, Jesus is the light of the world. Those who believe Jesus is from God have this light, and those who reject Jesus are blind.
Moloney, Francis J. The Gospel of John.Liturgical Press, 1988.
Talbert, Charles. Reading John. Smyth and Helwys, 2005.