Jesus is recorded, a few verses before (cf. 7:37-39) today’s Gospel, speaking about quenching the thirst of those gathered around to listen to him. The thirst he is talking about fulfilling is spiritual thirst, that thirst which we all desire to be refreshed by, that which we have been created to receive; the thirst to belong, to be in communion, to be loved and to love in return. Jesus speaks of coming to those who thirst to be refreshed with: “Rivers of living water [that] will flow from within” (Jn 7:38). Jesus spoke of the day when he would send the Holy Spirit to well up from within the soul of each person who would follow him. All who participate in the life of Jesus would come to experience also the love shared between God the Father and God the Son, who is God the Holy Spirit.
Some who heard Jesus speaking in this way were deeply moved, they believed him to be the Prophet, others believed him to be the Messiah. Yet, there were those who could not see past their own preconceived notions. They heard his teaching, may have even been moved as well but said, “The Messiah will not come from Galilee, will he” (Jn 7:41)? Remember Nathaniel’s first reaction when Philip had told him that they had found the Messiah? Nathaniel asked if anything good could come out of Nazareth (cf. Jn 43-47). Jesus was also rejected because he was looked down upon because of his trade as a tekton, a carpenter or a day laborer.
Why the region of Galilee, the town of Nazareth itself, would be disparaged is a matter of speculation. The fact was that there were those, unlike Nathaniel, that could not see past their initial prejudices. Even though Jesus spoke and taught with authority, though as the Temple guards who were sent to arrest him said, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man” (Jn 7:46), and even when Nicodemus spoke out rationally, requesting they hear Jesus out and give him the opportunity to make his case, there were those in authority and among the people who could or would not hear Jesus. They closed themselves off to the invitation to receive the gift of the love of God. Their charge was that he was not from Bethlehem, he was not of the line of David, case closed.
We must come to terms with our ingrained, prejudicial attitudes and our limitations of thought that prevent us from seeing as God sees, otherwise, we will become like a stagnant pool and, as did those in today’s Gospel account from John, close ourselves off from the invitation of Jesus. Many of our daily routines, habits, livelihoods, health, and very lives have been shaken and threatened by this pandemic. We can react out of fear or to the other extreme, react as if nothing has changed putting our lives and others at risk. Aristotle wrote that virtue is the means between two extremes. Courage is the means between being paralyzed with fear and excessive reckless abandon.
There are sensible precautions we can take that we are all now well aware of to keep ourselves and those around us safe. From my time in the hospital I learned, the most important is to wash our hands often and not touch our faces, especially, eyes, noses and mouths. Wearing masks, social distancing and receiving the vaccine are also ways to protect ourselves and prevent the spread of and hopefully bring about an end to this outbreak. By doing so, we can be engaged in our lives while keeping ourselves and others safe.
A more reasonable and rational approach is true for us spiritually as well. We can give in to fear and say that Jesus has left us, that he doesn’t care, or that he does not exist, for what kind of Lord would put us through this? Or we can follow the lead of Pope Francis who shared in his Ubi et Orbi message around this same time last year that Jesus, “more than anyone, cares about us.” Jesus cares. His hand is held out before us. We can reject it or grasp it, the choice is ours. Jesus is the source of living water, he is the eye in the midst of any storm, he is the light leading us through the darkness. When we choose to breathe more and react less, we will be more likely to recognize and accept the offer of Jesus. By taking his hand and allowing him to lead us, we will act with more prudence, be more present and mindful, and better prepared to support one another each day going forward.
Photo: Pope Francis delivering his reflection before his Urbi et Orbi blessing for the world – Vatican Media accessed from zenit.org