Eternal Life or Endless Fries?

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realized that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realized that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” – John 6:22‭-‬27

Searching for God is a good thing, but I think this passage is making the point that we can be looking in the right place but for the wrong reasons. The crowd that ate the miraculous meal with the Messiah and His disciples the day before is searching for Jesus.  They seem like a pretty observant lot noticing that only one boat had been present the previous night and Jesus had not entered it with the disciples.

They seem a bit puzzled about where Jesus is because they saw the disciples set off alone in the boat the previous night.  I suspect they are looking around expecting Jesus to stroll out of the mountains instead of strolling on the lake in a squall the previous night.  I guess since Jesus is not showing up they assume He must have taken a different boat and went to Capernaum across the lake on His own. 

Some boats arrive from Tiberias and “the crowd” hitches a ride to Capernaum to search for Jesus.  They are motivated to find Jesus, but for the wrong reasons as Jesus will soon point out.  They eventually find Jesus and ask him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” What some of them were probably thinking was “where are those magical fish and loaves we had yesterday”.  Instead of directly answering their question Jesus does what He often does, He got right to the “soul of the matter“.  Were these people looking for Him wondering souls or merely wandering people looking for fish and loaves?

Many in the crowd clearly came because their stomachs were empty. Jesus says “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.”  What Jesus wanted them to realize was that they were largely oblivious to a far more important emptiness with eternal implications, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

Jesus wanted these people to be in search of “soul food” not merely their next meal.  He knew that no matter how hungry or thirsty our bodies get there is a more important hunger and thirst that we should be paying attention to as we go about our lives.  This is hard because our bodies are much more attuned to the physical needs.  When we are hungry our stomach begins to growl and remind us that we need more sustenance. 

Does our soul do something similar?  What does it look like when our souls get “hungry” or “thirsty”?  It seems to me when our souls are hungry we tend seek answers to life’s big questions.  We seek out “purposeful existence” as one of my favorite farmers, Joel Salatin, puts it in his book “Folks, This Ain’t Normal, A Farmer’s Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World”. 

I think the action that the crowd took was the right one, they went looking for Jesus.  The problem was their search for Jesus was being driven by the wrong steering wheel.  Their stomachs were driving when in fact their souls should have been at the helm.  Jesus wanted them to seek Him first for the spiritual nourishment only He could provide.  Only He could give them what they were really looking for when they crossed the lake in search of Jesus – eternal life.  Those with the right posture and perspective found Him and began their journey home, while others probably just kept searching for endless fries. 

Prayer: God help us to seek You first and hunger and thirst for the spiritual nourishment only You can provide.

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Inviting Jesus into the Boat

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading. – John 6:16‭-‬21

This passage is a retelling of Jesus walking on water to reach the disciples struggling in the boat all alone. It sounds like they have been on the east side of the Sea of Galilee healing, feeding, and learning from Jesus.

They apparently left the shore without Jesus which I find somewhat odd. Perhaps Jesus told them to go on ahead and that part is not stated in this story. Whatever the reason the disciples are hard at work rowing against a headwind to cross the lake.  They had rowed three or four miles which would have placed them about in the middle of the Sea of Galilee which was about 8 miles wide. Sounds like hard and discouraging work to me.  It was dark and the “waters grew rough”. I am sure they were worried about the boat being swamped and drowning, and felt hopeless – like they were getting nowhere against the wind and waves.

This secular storm that would have shaken any sailor, but the real squall here is a spiritual one. They are about to be awoken from their spiritual sleepiness by Jesus navigating this maelstrom with nothing more than His sandals and spirit. Jesus comes to them walking on the lake. He is the master of this watery place just as He is the master of the spiritual world that surrounds and permeates these men.  This spiritual soul saturation is just as real to Jesus as the spray of water from the waves and wind is to these men.  This event, and others like it, are providing a window between the secular and the spiritual.

The men are initially frightened by this confluence of Godly condensate and sea spray as Jesus appears from the darkness navigating what appears to these men to be very choppy waters. Jesus calls out to them “It is I; don’t be afraid.” There is in this seemingly simple statement salvation for those who choose to hear it amidst the secular storm. I think Jesus still calls out to us like this, although usually in a less tangible way.

Jesus shows up during life’s storms and squalls for people all the time in different ways. Rarely in my experience is this as dramatic as a savior strolling across the lake, but I have experienced His presence in ways that took my breath away. I am sure that rowing against these breaching waves was probably leaving these men a bit breathless, but not in the same way that the arrival of Jesus did.

Once they were able to conquer their fear and ”take him into the boat” they immediately reached the shore where they were heading. Interestingly, this account says nothing about Jesus calming the waves or storm. The act of inviting Jesus into the boat made all the difference.  It resulted in their immediate arrival at the destination, which they were previously rowing so hard against wind and waves to reach.

The take home life lesson for me is that inviting Jesus into the boat will help us reach the destination we seek – even amidst darkness, waves, and wind, which from our perspective in the boat look really scary.

Prayer: God help us to keep a sharp lookout for You so we can invite You into our boat

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More than a Monarch

The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by James Tissot

Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.  When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.  When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.   After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. – John 6:1‭-15

Today’s passage is a familiar story about fish and loaves that has been recounted in several different ways in the Gospels.  There are apparently two different versions or events that involve fish and loaves with the primary difference being the details of how many people, loaves, and fish.  In Matthew 14:17 there are 5000 people, five loaves, and two fish.  Interestingly, this account did not contain a water reference so it was not one of the ones I reflected on for this blog.  I did reflect on another version involving 4000 people, seven loaves, and a few small fish that comes a bit later in Matthew in a post was called Healing and Feeding (Matthew 15:29-39). 

Mark also contains an account of the feeding of 5000 with five loaves and two fish (Mark 6:31-44); and an account of feeding 4000 with seven loaves and a two small fish, but again neither of the Mark passages contain a water reference so I floated on by them.  Luke also recounts a water-reference free version with 5000 men, five loaves, and two fish (Luke 9:12-17).  So what is it about feeding people that makes these stories so important to share?  I think it comes down to three m’s, miracle, Messiah, and modelling.  Let’s explore each of these “reaches” of this passage separately.

First the miracle, obviously things like turning water into wine and making a few fish and loaves capable of feeding thousands of people represent suspensions of physical laws and could be viewed as mere magic. Science fiction writer Arthur C. Clark wrote in 1962 “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”.   Bear with me here, I am not suggesting Jesus was an alien using technology to perform these miracles.  What I am suggesting is that as the author of the logos, or underlying reason behind all things, he did not have to. I would suggest a spiritual version of the Clark quote, “any sufficiently spiritual savior can care for His people in a way that is indistinguishable from magic”.  Of course those who acknowledge that Jesus is both man and Messiah would call this “magic” miracles. 

Jesus spans the physical and spiritual providing a window between these very different worlds.  What would seem impossible from our viewpoint here in the land of oblivion is normal for the One behind the one-way mirror in the undiscovered country where Jesus ultimately resides.

The second “m” is modelling.  Every good teacher and parent knows that modelling is one of the most effective ways to teach.  Especially when the subject of your teaching is spiritual in nature.  This teaching technique is alluded to when Jesus says to Philip “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?”  This was clearly a rhetorical question meant to invoke a spiritual squall in Philip’s soul, “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.”  Jesus was using this teachable moment to model for his disciples and the crowd what faithful following looks like.

The last “m” is Messiah.  The crowd and Jesus’ disciples clearly saw something different in the man who was teaching them using these miraculous meals and healing.  The crowd says “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” They recognized that Jesus was able to bend time and understand things that no one but a prophet could understand, but they ultimately missed the point.  Their idea of the Messiah was a mixture of military leader and monarch for the people.  They had grown accustomed to being led by leaders that fit this mold, but Jesus would have none of this forced monarch role, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.”

Crucifixion, seen from the Cross
by James Tissot

Jesus knew that if He allowed the crowd to crown Him king they would lose site of the redemption role that was approaching on the horizon.  It is so much easier to crown a king than to understand and accept the sacrifice of a savior.  I think this is because all of us lesser vessels for God’s spirit wear “hairy crowns” and like to rule our own lives.  We must dethrone ourselves and reject the temptation to make the Messiah into a monarch.   He was, is, and will be so much more.


Prayer: God help us to see the Messiah as more than a monarch.

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Master at the Pool

Christ Healing by the Well of Bethesda
by Carl Bloch

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?” “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.” – John 5:1‭-‬3‭, ‬5‭-‬10

Today’s passage is about a pool, not just any pool but a healing pool where Jesus performed a miracle for all to see and some so scorn.  This pool refereed to as Bethseda was apparently near the sheep gate on the east side of old Jerusalem.  There is some scholarly debate about the meaning of the word Bethseda and even if it is the correct name for this feature in Jerusalem.  The tow meanings that seem most widely accepted are “house of mercy” or “house of grace”.  Both of these have interesting implications given what this story recounts.

Jesus is apparently in Jerusalem for “one of the Jewish festivals”.  The passage does not say which one.  Apparently they entered or were near the Sheep Gate.  This gate was also apparently called the lions gate by some which is an interesting juxtaposition given the dual roles of God and Jesus as both lion and lamb.

This pool sounds very large if it is surrounded by five colonnades or porches.  There is quite a bit of uncertainty and debate about the nature of this pool.  Was it fed from a spring?  Was it a reservoir created by a dam?  Was it rainwater or groundwater fed?  Was the water special in some way, for example naturally carbonated like many mineral springs?  Was the water warm or cold?  I am not sure the answer to any of these questions impact the fundamental story here.

Jesus shows up at this pool which is apparently a place where the sick and crippled gather to be healed by bathing in the pool, “Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed”.  This association between healing and natural springs is common throughout the world, probably before biblical times.  The fact that people gather here for healing makes me lean towards this being a natural spring, perhaps with water that was mineralized or unique in some way.

The main subject of this story is “One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.”  Now I cannot imagine what it would be like to be paralyzed, let along endure this for thirty eight years.  The closest I can come is when my lower back decides to act up which pretty much immobilizes me until it calms down.  I think years of gymnastics and jumping off roofs is the reason for my malady.  I am not sure why this man was paralyzed.  

Jesus see this man and asks him what would seem to be an obvious question “Do you want to get well?”  My first reaction to this is of course he wants to get well, but clearly Jesus is asking about more than his limbs and lack of mobility.  Jesus is asking whether this man wants to be well in a holistic sense, mind, body, and spirit.  The man clearly does not grasp this at first.  He is still focused on the pool and its power to heal, “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”  The man was looking for a magical elixir, what he found was the master of this pool and all others.

Jesus ignores the pool and says ““Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  This healing at the pool had nothing to do with the water in the pool.  It had everything to do with the Spring of Living Water that walked in and asked whether this man wanted to be well.  I think Jesus still does this in people lives every day.  He approaches all of us flawed followers and asks us “do you want to be well?”  Our answer determines whether we will pick up our “mats” and faithfully follow Jesus.

Our “maladies” and cures come in many shapes and sizes, both secular and spiritual, but Jesus has the cure for them all.  It involves walking toward Jesus on the road He is building for us. Accepting His hand when it comes time to cross the river than no one can cross on their own. 

Prayer: God You are the great healer of body, mind, and spirit.  Help us to accept the healing You offer with humility and grace.

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The Journey Home

Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.” The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed. While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living. When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed. This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee. – John 4:46‭-‬54

I have never been a big fan of sequels.  It seems when someone comes up with a compelling story and they tell it well one should leave that story alone and begin a new one.  Some notable exceptions to this are continuing stories like the original Star Wars movies. The Empire Strikes Back was one of my favorites, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy of movies, which were really one continuous movie, are amazing.  This story takes place in Cana, a sequel to the wedding story from early in John.

In this “sequel”, Jesus returns to Cana where he turned water into wine at a wedding.   The main character of this story is a “royal official”.  It does not say whether this official was an official for the tetrarch Herod Antipas or the emperor of Rome, or whether he is a Jew or Gentile.  Perhaps from Jesus’ perspective that does not matter.  It appears that Cana of Galilee was about a half a day’s walk from Capernaum which was on the bank of the Sea of Galilee to the east.  The man made this journey on foot to see Jesus.

The official’s son was ill in Capernaum and he had traveled to Cana to ask for Jesus’ help because he had heard of his other healings and miracles.  I am afraid the man was approaching Jesus with the wrong posture and perspective.  He had a genuine concern and love for his son which is not in itself bad, but Jesus was seeking followers who would worship God in spirit and truth.  Don’t get me wrong here, I am not saying that Jesus did not want the man to care for the life of his son, he just wanted him to believe and care for his relationship with God more.  He wanted the man to make the journey to Cana to find Him, not just for healing for his son.

Jesus alludes to this with his response to the man’s request, “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”  Jesus wanted people to come to Him for the right reasons with wondering souls ready for a change.  I am not sure this man was at that place.  The man is spiritually asleep and clearly does not get what Jesus is saying and is still focused on the immediate spiritual squall of his son dying.  He says “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  I think what Jesus wanted was for the man to turn inward and focus on his own lack of faith and ability to follow Jesus.  The man made the right journey for the wrong reason.

Despite this man’s lack of focus and faith Jesus says “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.”  The man took Jesus at His word, which I guess is some level of faith, although probably not the depth and devotion that Jesus was looking for in this man from Capernaum.  As he meets his servants on the way home they confirm that the healing took place at the exact time that Jesus had spoken the words “your son will live”. Apparently this was sufficiently miraculous and personal for this man and his entire household to believe and become followers of Christ.

I have witnessed what I would consider miracles that I cannot explain by the normal physical laws that govern our daily lives.  Part of my final surrender to become a follower of Christ involved just such an event in my dorm room at college.  It was not quite so dramatic as this healing in Cana, but it was the sign that I needed at that time to convince me that I should stop seeking God everywhere but where He was residing, in this miraculous man from Galilee, Jesus.  That is where my journey began.

My journey ever since has been one of adventure, discovery, and wonder. I am continually amazed at the many ways that God has carried me, both before and after I began to follow Him.  The reality is that Jesus loved and cared for this man and his son before they believed. This man made the journey from Capernaum to Cana to find healing for his son.  He found something much bigger.  Jesus offers the same to all those willing to begin the journey back to Him.

Prayer: God thank You for caring for and loving us.  Help us to believe and make the journey back to You.

 

 

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Come and See

“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”  The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him. – John 4:21‭-‬30

This passage is the culmination of yesterday’s passage about drawing from a deep well of living water.  In this part of the story Jesus is sharing some really important spiritual truths with the Samaritan woman then towards the end of the passage the disciples return from their voyage to the village to get victuals.  Let’s start with a dive into the deep end first and see what we can find in this deep water that Jesus is sharing about.

Jesus is sharing something very profound with the Samaritan woman.  He is saying that salvation will be for everyone willing to believe, even though the Messiah is sent to the Jews.  Jesus shares some very important advice about what it means to faithfully follow and worship God, spoiler it has nothing to do with altars and churches.  He says “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”  Wow this is a deep well of living water for sure.  God the Father wants people who worship in the spirit and in truth.  What does this mean?  

I think I get the part about worshiping in spirit.  Jesus in His role as a window between the worlds is providing all kinds of examples of how the disciples navigate and discern this spiritual world, while still dwelling in this land of oblivion.  I think this part boils down to stripping down to our souls so that we can interact with God on a spiritual level, for after as Jesus says “God is spirit”.

The second part is more perplexing.  We are to “worship in truth”.  This of course implies that the opposite is possible which would be to worship in lies.  What does this mean?  I am not sure I have a great answer for this but it seems to me that what Jesus may be getting at is that we sometimes worship when our heart is not in the right place.  Our body is present, but our spirit is somewhere else thinking about something or someone other than God.  We are in worshiping in a lie, the lie that we are all in for God body, mind, and spirit when in fact we are not.  Jesus concludes this dive into the deep end with a clear confession that He is the Messiah, ““I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”.  This is something He has not revealed so plainly even to His own disciples.

Now to the comparatively “shallow end” of the pool when the disciples return They find Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.  Jesus just finished telling the woman everything she ever did, including about her multiple marriages; and sharing deep spiritual truth about God and how we are to worship Him. Jesus knows this woman from the inside out even though He just met her.  The disciples have a striking lack of curiosity about this strange woman talking with Jesus, “But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?  I am not sure why they did not question her or Jesus about this cultural confluence unless they were already becoming accustomed to Jesus interacting with wondering souls.

The woman seems flustered and leaves without the reason she was there in the first place, her water jar.  Her encounter with Jesus and the spring of living water He promised was more important than the physical water she originally went to fetch.  She allowed her heart to be channeled toward God.

The woman was mum about the talk of living water and Messiah’s when the disciples arrived, but she cannot contain her excitement when she returns to town.  She wants everyone to “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.”. I find it interesting that she did not mention the more metaphysical and mystical aspects of their meeting.  She focused on His ability to know the details of her life and His possible identity as the Messiah.

This seems to have piqued the curiosity of the people in the village and they made their way to Him to learn more.  It is hard to tell if they went in search of a mystic and magician or the Messiah.  I suppose there was probably a spectrum of seekers that found what they were looking for at the well.   The Samaritan woman went to the well for a jar of water and came back with something much bigger.  The take home message for me is that as we go about our daily routine of “fetching water” we should always be ready to encounter something or Someone much bigger.

Prayer: God help us to keep our hearts and eyes open for You in our daily routines.

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Deep Wells of Living Water

Jesus and Woman at the Well
By dward Burne-Jones

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. ) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” – John 4:4‭-‬15

This passage is infused with water and references to water.  The well described as “Jacob’s well” is not mentioned elsewhere in the bible, although there are many wells described in the old testament.  The only reference I could find that associates Jacob and a well was in Deuteronomy 6:10-12.  This passage describes the promised land and “wells they did not dig“.  It was actually talking about God’s provision for the people of Israel in the Promised Land and how this provision should not make the Isrealites proud and forgetful of their true water source.  

Jesus is tired and probably thirsty and He stops by the well in need of water. Apparently the disciples have gone into town to get food.  I am not sure why they did not all stop for water first. It was around noon, likely with a blazing sun shining down from above.  Jesus is at a place where God has been providing life-giving water ever since the Israelites crossed over the Jordan River into the promised land.  They have struggled to remember who their water source really is and what they should do when they are thirsty.

The Samarian woman is fetching water for her family when she encounters this lone Jewish man by the well.  I am not sure why Jesus did not get water on His own, perhaps there was no bucket to lower into the well.  It would make some sense that people would bring their own buckets to lower into the well to control access and prevent contamination.  For whatever reason Jesus asks the woman for a drink from the water she is drawing from the well.  The woman is surprised because Jewish people do not talk or hang out with Samaritans.

In order to contextualize the magnitude of this social and spiritual shift it might help to think of an analogous act today.  It would be a bit like a rich person in a business suit showing up alone at a homeless encampment under a bridge somewhere to ask for a drink.  This is an imperfect analogy, but it does give one an idea of the magnitude of this meeting and interaction. 

The woman asks Jesus “How can you ask me for a drink?”  She is completely confused by this cultural clash and the conversation she is having.  Jesus looks into her soul and responds “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”  This woman is confused about the living water that Jesus is talking about just like Nicodemus was confused about being born of water

She is viewing this event from a purely earthly perspective and understanding, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?”  This part of the passage answer my earlier question about why Jesus did not get the water Himself, he had nothing to draw the water with from the deep well. 

Jesus’ answer to her is drawn from deep water indeed: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  Jesus is providing a window between the worlds of the secular and spiritual for the Samaritan woman – a person that most Jewish people would not event talk to let alone invite into eternal life.  There are several aspects of this response that are interesting so let’s pull apart the sentence and see where it leads.

The first part is focused on physical and spiritual thirst.  The physical water from the well satisfies a physical need for water but does nothing for our spiritual needs. There is a sense that the our spiritual need for Living Water should make us feel just as thirsty as our physical need for water.  I confess that this is not a common occurrence for me.  When was the last time I felt spiritually thirsty?  I think this is because we often replace our water supply with secular sources.  This blog is actually an effort on my part to pay more attention to the spiritual hidden wells all around me.

The second part of Jesus’ statement is even more profound.  He says “the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  This is an amazing statement.  If we choose to partake of the spiritual living water that Jesus freely offers to all then we will have eternal life.  I do not think this living water is a magic elixir that can repair our cells and make us live forever.  Jesus is talking about a regular consumption of this spring of Living Water that results in our arrival at the undiscovered country – eternal life. 

The woman responds with what appears to be partial understanding “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”  She is unable to make sense of this spiritual squall she has just experienced.  The rest of this story in the subsequent chapters (16-26) is that Jesus looks into her soul and helps her to understand how her choices are linked to her ability to receive the living water He is offering.  This is true of all of us.  We must all choose daily to seek out the living water that Jesus is offering this woman if we are to satisfy our spiritual thirst.

Prayer: God help us to accept the living water You offer to all those who are thirsty.

Posted in Christianity, Covenant, Discernment, Faith, Following God, Forgiveness, Free Will, God's Love for Us, Jesus, John, Messiah, reconciliation, Redemption, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm, Trusting God | Tagged , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Mixing up the Messenger and Master

St. John the Baptist
by El Greco

After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.” To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” – John 3:22‭-‬30

This passage seems to be describing an interesting “day in the life” of Jesus and John.  They were both baptizing people on the Judean countryside. Presumably, John was baptizing with water and Jesus with the Spirit.  It sounds like John and Jesus are in different locations along the Jordan River.  It is not stated where Jesus is except that He is apparently not in the same location as John.  

The passage implies that Jesus is in a place of more scarce water and John was in a place of “plenty of water”.  I am not sure what this means. My first reaction is that these statements are backward.  Jesus should be in the place with plenty of water and John in the “desert”.  Perhaps there is a deeper spiritual truth here.  John, in baptizing with water, is much closer to abundant secular sources of water like the Jordan River, while Jesus is closer to and in fact providing Living Water that is much harder to see and experience. 

The story then focuses on John and a dispute that came up about ceremonial washing between John’s followers and a “certain jew”.  It is interesting that the topic of discussion is ceremonial washing.  My post from December 9 was all about Jesus turning water into fine wine that was stored in ceremonial washing vessels.  The content of the debate is not provided but I can imagine it went something like this:

Jew: “What right do you have to say that the washing in this dirty river is making these people ceremonially clean?”

Disciples: “Go wash yourself and see how clean that makes you in the eyes of God, we have seen the Son of God and you are not Him”.

John’s disciples then begin to question their understanding of the “man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan”.  They are allowing the earthly actions of John preparing the way for the Messiah to mix with their admiration and pride at following John.  They are mixing up the messenger and the Master.

John sets them straight and refocuses their pride and praise on the One for which it was intended all along, the Bridegroom, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’”.  John is modelling the proper posture and perspective for his followers.  

John explains that upon Jesus arriving “That joy is mine, and it is now complete.” This statement is not just for a camel-hair-wearing, honey- and locust-eating, ascetic from the desert and his followers.  It is for us.  When we “discover” Jesus on the other side of the Jordan we are to be joyful about this.  Finding Jesus should make us feel complete in a way that no other earthly endeavor, item, or action does.  It is to be like finding, and placing, the last piece in a hundred-thousand piece puzzle that we thought we would never solve.

The passage ends with a profound statement “He must become greater; I must become less.”  The simple sentence sums up our journey here on earth as we work out what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ.  Jesus must become greater in our lives and we must become less.  In practice this is hard.  Our selfish inner selves are constantly asserting the same sort of doubts that John’s followers were voicing, “everyone is going to him”.  We are reluctant to give up all of ourselves so that Jesus can become greater, especially those things that compete for our affection and attention.

Prayer: God help us to be joyful in Your presence and allow You to become greater as we become lesser.

 

Posted in baptism, Born again, Ceremonial Cleansing, Christianity, Discipleship, Following God, Forgiveness, God's Love for Us, Jesus, John, Love for the Lost, Messiah, Redemption, religion, The Earthly Realm, The Nature of God | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Born of Water

Nicodemus Visiting Jesus
by Henry Ossawa Tanner

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again. ” “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked. “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” John 3:1‭-‬15 

Ah Nicodemus.  I think he would have been a kindred spirit had we overlapped on this earth.  He seems to be a curious but conflicted man that is earnestly seeking answers.  I aspire to be a similar God seeker.  Nicodemus confesses that Jesus is who He says He is “For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him”. 

Jesus clarifies what this God following will look like.  It is will require a radical reentering of the womb, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”  This idea of being born again has gotten a bad rap in popular culture.  It has been equated with evangelicals who some consider radical.  Nicodemus places this very radical statement, that we can born again, into an earthly construct, that of earthly birth, “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

The “womb” that Jesus was speaking of was a spiritual place not a physical place within the body of a woman.  He is speaking of the spiritual secret place from which all spirits come, and from which we are all transplants for a time here in this land of oblivion.  He is describing a choice that we all have to be spiritually reborn, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.”  It is interesting that Jesus links spiritual rebirth with being born of water.  I assume He is referring to the redemption through water baptism that John was preaching and new wine that He is bringing through his life and sacrifice.

This being born of he spirit that Jesus is talking about comes with a new ability to predict and react to spirit squalls. “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”  So Nicodemus is looking for wisdom and meaning and he finds something much bigger.  Jesus is speaking plainly of heavenly things.  He is providing Nicodemus with a window between to earthly world of wombs into the spiritual world of spirit and light

The the story takes a somewhat confusing twist when Jesus says “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”  The reference is the Numbers 21:8-9 “The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.”  Jesus was using this analogy between Moses and physical healing from snake bites and spiritual sickness and healing which will come about through Him.

Interestingly, right after the passage in Numbers about snakes and Moses healing people from snake bites God turns to matters of grace when he says “Gather the people together and I will give them water.” (Numbers 21:16).  Jesus is here to provide Living Water to Nicodemus and all curious God seekers who have come after him.

Prayer: God teach about the spiritual places in our lives and help us to seek You with all our hearts.

 

Posted in baptism, Born again, Christianity, Covenant, Following God, Forgiveness, God's Love for Us, Holy Spirit, Jesus, John, Love for the Lost, Obedience, Redemption, The Nature of God, The Spiritual Realm, Trusting God | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water” ; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.” What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days. – John 2:1‭-‬12

I have been looking forward to this reach of the river.  It is such an interesting mixture of miracle, metaphor, and mystery.  There are also many layers and nuances of meaning here. Let’s dive in!

The miracle part is pretty obvious, it is not every day someone is able to instantaneously change water into wine.  Jesus performs this miracle in a quiet way out of the spotlight so He is clearly not seeking to gain fame from His actions.  Most of the miracles that Jesus chooses to do have some connection to building a stronger relationship with either the recipient of the miracle or people looking onto the miraculous event.  It seems like this miracle was mainly for the benefit of the disciples who were with Jesus at the wedding.  It was a start toward changing their worldview and convincing them that they are seeing something new and different.

Of course the miracle of turning water into wine happens every day all around the world.  The difference in this case is the rate, complexity, and director of this changing process.  In order to make really good wine, as is described in this passage, requires a master vintner who has many decades of experience, good raw materials and supplies, and patience.  Jesus’ instantaneous transmutation of the water into wine required none of these things.  Turning all of us flawed followers into faithful children God, on the other hand, requires a master vintner indeed.

The metaphorical meaning here is that Jesus is changing the water baptism of John the Baptist, and all the old practices and traditions, into new wine.  This part of the metaphorical meaning is highlighted in the containers for the water that was changed “Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing”.  Jesus was taking the former practices of making oneself “clean” and turning them into something much better and more complex, wine.  Not just any wine but wine that clearly was superior to other wines that people might consume.  Jesus is using this event to teach His disciples that He will be doing the same thing with them and all those who choose to follow Him in the future.

It is also interesting that this miracle takes place at a wedding given the common imagery of bride and groom between God and Israel.  Jesus’ mother says to Jesus “They have no more wine”.  In many ways this was an apt description of the religious leaders of the day.  The keepers of the old treasures are not interested in the new song that Jesus is bringing. 

The people who witness Jesus’ miracle is also an important detail to the story.  The author makes it clear that the “master of the banquet”, AKA the religious leaders, “did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.”  This is an early example of the way that Jesus will overturn many of the power and privilege structures in favor of common people willing to drop everything and follow Him. 

Jesus was hesitant to perform this miracle as “My hour has not yet come.”  I am not sure why His mother was pushing His early coming out as the Messiah.  Perhaps she was merely proud of Her son and interested in demonstrating his divinity. I am not sure.  I suspect that Jesus did not want to distract from His core message of transformation by a dramatic transmutation. 

The passage ends with a clear explanation for why Jesus changed the water into wine, “What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him”.  Jesus will reveal his glory in many other ways to help His disciples, and all subsequent seekers, to believe.  God really does believe in us and wants to make us into the most amazing wine ever.  Unfortunately His disciples, and many of us subsequent seekers, will have difficulty seeing and understanding these revelations so that we can be changed.

Prayer: God help us to see Your miracles and revelations so we can be turned into the new wine that You want us to be.

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