On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out,“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me,as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. - John 7:37-39 ESV
It's virtually impossible to read this and not be reminded of Exodus 17 in which Moses struck the rock in the wilderness and out of it flowed water.
The situation was tenuous. The Hebrews were newly liberated from Egypt, yet struggling to grasp their identity as Yahweh's chosen people. Yes, Egypt was awful, but at least they had food, as negligible their provisions were. Now, with the Red Sea behind them and very unwelcome to return to their former place of residence, their only path was forward, deeper into the wilderness.
Deeper into the wilderness.
Confusion, fueled by weariness and empty stomachs, turned into complaining and bordered on all-out mutiny. "But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, 'Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?'" (Exodus 17:3)
The wilderness was barren and they needed sustenance. So the question of whether or not God was dependable arose. Did he really love them? Or was He harsh like their former oppressors?
Does God really love me?
So Yahweh commanded Moses to take his staff with which he struck the Nile turning it to blood, and strike a rock. Out of that rock water would flow and refresh the people (that rock must have been rather large -- we are talking about a vast number of people to water!).
But I find verse 7 of Exodus 17 particularly poignant in relation to Jesus in John 7: "And [Moses] called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"
"Is the Lord among us or not?"
Does God remember me?
Does he even care?
So in John 7, Jesus had made his way south from Galilee to Judea to observe the Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths). This feast commemorated the wilderness wanderings of the Israelites almost a millennium and a half earlier. This feast was a call to remembrance - to recall what their ancestors endured, living in booths (or tents, tabernacles) in the wilderness, learning to trust God, grasping the full ramifications of their identities in God. It wasn't good enough that they had Abraham as their father and merely inherited his story and "last name." They also had to partake of his faith, his trust in God. "And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).
Claiming to be a Christian is cheap in our corner of the world. Are our identities being formed around learning to trust him?
So Jesus eats. Surrounded by Jews enjoying their feast. I'm sure many ate their meal frivolously, the true meaning of that meal far from their minds. Similar to the way we Americans enjoy our Thanksgiving feasts. (I doubt many families stop for a moment of silence to reflect on the first Thanksgiving meal.)
But there were almost certainly others at that meal who couldn't help but complain about the politics of the day (something we Americans can relate to very well). Almost certainly, Jesus overheard murmurings about the unjust Roman occupation of the Holy Land. Herod's antics and corruption. Pilate's iron fist. One can only guess what motivated Jesus to stand and shout, but he did. One can only wonder if Jesus heard those unanswered questions...
Is God with us?
Will God care for our needs?
Does God remember us?
And what does Jesus announce? "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'"
This time, it won't be a rock at Meribah that gushes water. It will be stony hearts turned to flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). What is this phenomenon? It is the coming of the Spirit following Jesus' earthly ministry and the subsequent glorification of his body. It is the point at which he and the Father send the Spirit to stir faith and trust in the hearts of his people. It is the miracle of salvation when the people of God include people of all races who bow in submission to Jesus. It's people who drink from a wellspring of water deep within that will never run dry and never leave them without hope for a new and better world: the new creation.
It won't be better politics that saves. Better rulers. A Roman-less Palestine. It will be the presence of Jesus in the believer's life carrying him or her through whatever wilderness he or she may face.