Psalm 7:2-3, 9bc-10, 11-12
On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus proclaims to the crowds that he will give living water to those who believe in him. The promise of water recalls the figure of Moses, who struck the rock and provided water for the people of Israel in the desert. The new Moses-like figure of Jesus makes the crowd wonder: “Who is Jesus?” Is he the prophet? Is he the Christ?
All four Gospels ask the question: “Who is Jesus?” Matthew takes up the question in Chapter 16 when Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do men say that the Son of man is?” And they reply, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets” (16:13-14). Jesus inquires further: “And who do you say that I am?” Peter’s response is that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. In Mark, Peter answers: “You are the Christ” (8:29). In Luke, he says that Jesus is “the Christ of God” (9:20). Peter also confesses in the Gospel of John that Jesus is “the Holy One of God” (6:69).
The identification of Jesus with the Christ posed an insurmountable problem for the crowds: How can Jesus be the Christ if he is from Galilee? The Christ, they knew from the prophets, will descend from David and be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). What they did not know was that, as Matthew and Luke relate, Jesus was in fact born in Bethlehem, the City of David (Matthew 2:1; Luke 2:4), and that Joseph, Jesus’ foster father, was a descendant of King David (Matthew 1:16, 20). The chief priests and the pharisees are also ignorant of Jesus’ heavenly and earthly origins. They respond in anger to Nicodemus who suggests that they give Jesus a hearing and learn more about him, his doctrine and his actions.
The crowds and the chief priests and the pharisees all mention “the prophet”. This refers to the tradition of the return of Elijah before the coming of the Lord, and the appearance of a prophet-like-Moses, promised in Deuteronomy 18:15, 18. Earlier in John’s Gospel, John the Baptist denied that he was the Christ, that he was Elijah and that he was the prophet (1:20-21). John understood himself as the voice in the desert (Isaiah 40:3), who prepares the way of the Lord. Jesus, however, will identify John the Baptist as Elijah: “If you are willing to accept it, [John] is Elijah who is to come” (Matthew 11:14). In Acts 3:22, Peter will identify Jesus as the Prophet-like-Moses. Jesus, then, is both the Christ and the Prophet-like-Moses.
The pharisees would be wrong if they said that no prophet arises in Galilee, for Jonah (2 Kings 14:25) from Galilee, and Hosea seems to be from Galilee. They might have said, though, that “the prophet” does not rise from Galilee. Whether they said “a prophet” or “the prophet”, the chief priests and the pharisees are blind because they refuse to see and believe in Jesus.
Nicodemus, however, is not blind. He appears three times in John’s Gospel. He first comes to Jesus by night and professes that Jesus is a teacher come from God. That night, Jesus will teach Nicodemus three things: first, that entry into the kingdom of God is accomplished through being born anew; second, that this re-birth is not physical but rather spiritual and accomplished through the Spirit; third, that Jesus, the Son of man, must be lifted up (in order to send the Spirit). In his second appearance, Nicodemus attempts to convince the pharisees to listen to Jesus and give him a hearing. Finally, Nicodemus appears at Jesus’ burial and brings a mixture of myrrh and aloes. Nicodemus is a man of faith, who desires to learn from Jesus the Rabbi, to defend Jesus the Christ, and to honor Jesus of Nazareth, the King of Israel.
The first reading from Jeremiah reflects the attitude of the pharisees who wanted to arrest and kill Jesus: they wanted to “destroy the tree with its fruit” and “cut him off from the land of the living”. They wanted Jesus’ name to be remembered no more. The death of Jesus, the gentle Lamb led to the slaughter, will produce the opposite effects: the Cross becomes the tree of life with supernatural fruit; Jesus destroys death by dying and wins eternal life for us; because of his obedience unto death, God highly exalts Jesus and bestows on him the name which is above every name (Philippians 2:8-9). There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name by which we may be saved (Acts 4:12).
Readers may contact Father Jason Mitchell at email@example.com.