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Monday, February 7, 2022
Today’s Scripture Reading | John 7:37–52
On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
When they heard these words, some in the crowd said, “This is really the prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But some asked, “Surely the Messiah does not come from Galilee, does he? Has not the scripture said that the Messiah is descended from David and comes from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So there was a division in the crowd because of him. Some of them wanted to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him.
Then the temple police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees, who asked them, “Why did you not arrest him?” The police answered, “Never has anyone spoken like this!” Then the Pharisees replied, “Surely you have not been deceived too, have you? Has any one of the authorities or of the Pharisees believed in him? But this crowd, which does not know the law—they are accursed.” Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before, and who was one of them, asked, “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” They replied, “Surely you are not also from Galilee, are you? Search and you will see that no prophet is to arise from Galilee.” (NRSV)
Are we the type of people who exploit differences? Or do we work to transcend them? It is Nicodemus who teaches us on this point. Yes, Nicodemus, the Pharisee, intrigued enough by Jesus’ preaching to have visited him at night (John 3) to ask what it meant to be born again. Nicodemus was compelled to understand Jesus’ teachings. This put him in a unique category: a member of his faith’s elite leadership but also a covert student of this upstart rabbi.
So here is Jesus, on the festival’s last day, daring to invite people to partake of the Living Water—and, in so doing, angering the Pharisees and creating discord. (For context, the theme of “there arose a division” around Jesus occurs three times in the Gospel of John.) Sharp differences emerge in the crowd. Some ask if he is the Messiah, while others sense an imposter. The Pharisees remain steadfast in denouncing Jesus. This man is from Galilee, after all; no prophet comes from Galilee. Lock him up!
Nicodemus tries, sincerely, to transcend their mindset. He mediates. He appeals to the law. He appeals to his fellow Pharisees’ deepest values: “Our law does not judge people without first giving them a hearing to find out what they are doing, does it?” They counter with logical fallacy, first questioning Nicodemus’ validity (“Are you one of them?”), then claiming that the law does not apply to people from Galilee. In other words, they break the law they are bound to uphold. And might that be, in part, because it is so much easier for humans to exploit differences than to transcend them?
Factionalism is a temptation that plucks at our lowest impulses. But we must ask, Does it make us better Pharisees? Does it make us better Christians?
Holy and indwelling Spirit, transcendent Savior, give us courage to see past the differences in front of us. Turn us away from the tricks of divisiveness. May we be your peacemakers in this world. Amen.
Written by Sarah Forbes Orwig, Member of Fourth Presbyterian Church
Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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