I remember a movie about illusionists some years ago called The Prestige. I had never heard that term in the context of magician profession. The prestige in a magic show is the final trick that really brings the house down and gives the audience something to ooh and ah about.
In a week that was holy to the Jewish people called the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus had been speaking to them less than plainly. Was he a nice man? Was he a prophet? Was he someone that would perpetuate an overwhelming trend of miracles that never ends? Jesus did not come to be satisfy one-dimensional expressed needs. Jesus came to fulfill the Law though full of grace and truth. He was qualified to judge but came to save. For a magician, the trick is the show. For Jesus he had times, like on the last day of the feast, to speak into their lives with the truth that is right in front of their face not for the first or last time. The statement was the Prestige.
On the last and greatest day of the feast, Jesus stood up and exclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture says:‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him.’” He said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive. There was, of course, no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified. Some in the crowd who heard these words said, “This is truly the Prophet.” Others said, “This is the Messiah.” But others said, “The Messiah will not come from Galilee, will he? Does not scripture say that the Messiah will be of David’s family and come from Bethlehem, the village where David lived?” So a division occurred in the crowd because of him (John 7:37-39).
Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink- Here Jesus is making clear that the opportunity to respond to his call is for everyone and they can be satisfied in their thirst. This thirst can be hard to sum up. Where humanity can get Christianity wrong can be a physical thirst only like a social justice program or in someone getting many right answers.
In his commentary on the Gospel of John, St. Augustine addresses this passage.
There is therefore an inner thirst and an inner belly, because there is an inner man. And that inner man is indeed invisible, but the outer man is visible, but yet better is the inner than outer. And this which is not seen is the most loved; for it is certain that the inner man is more loved than the outer (Augustine, Tractate XXXII).
So often the value is expressed in the New Testament that God wants to change our hearts from the inside and work outward from there. As I often tell my clients who are in addiction recovery, we can appreciate Step 2 that God could “restore our lives to sanity” but if I could preach the gospel to them I could explain why he wants to.
Whoever believes in me- In review, belief was conversion and had a context of obedience and changing ones identity. Where the water has context of conversion even more is how water is used in the New Testament in a sacramental context. Earlier in each of the gospels John the Baptist brings in a baptism of repentance. This is a radical change in ones life in turning from ones sins. Frequently the change is referred to with the word metanoia where we get metamorphosis.
‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him’- This statement has an obvious ring to it of an Old Testament quote; the irony is that it is not. The Ignatius Study Bible (ISB) states that it is a summary of one passage about God satisfying Israel’s thirst through a rock in the time of Moses (Numbers 20:10-13), water coming from the temple in Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 47:1-12), and a universal water of life to the nations since “anyone” means anyone (Zecharaiah 14: 9,16). The ISB states then that Jesus is “the rock that stakes our thirst (1 Corinthians 10:4), the true temple that channels life to the world”.
He said this in reference to the Spirit- Jesus is pointing to the manifestation of the Holy Spirit for those that have that inner life working its way out. This extended experience of conversion is where someone is saved but being saved in an ongoing process like “the engrafted word of God which can save your [Christians already] souls” (James 1:21).
no Spirit yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified- True conversion in light of the fully articulated gospel of the kingdom will inherently dependent of the death of Jesus like a flower needs a seed.
If water springing up from the earth symbolizes life, the water of the sea is a symbol of death and so can represent the mystery of the cross. By this symbolism Baptism signifies communion with Christ’s death (Catechism of The Catholic Church, para. 1222).
This is truly the Prophet….This is the Messiah.- In the English translation used here, there are only 26 words. The people there are very religiously minded and see a recapitulation or summing up of Jesus that speaks so much in so little. These are not words of people fully converted but in seeing Jesus in the marketplace of a city and of ideas they are veering towards the call to “come and see” (John 1:35).
Does not scripture say that the Messiah will be….- For those that do not give Jesus the second look in a true presentation of the message of him, nothing will be enough. Not even the miracles like Jesus was known for by this time. They have interests at best but stick to their stipulations. If Jesus does not volunteer his bona fides they speak of, then he must be outrageous and not the real hope of Israel. If they were to come and see then they would be true seekers even if they were not ready.
But some do come, see then stay. But if they can accept the scandal of the cross they will truly stay and truly live. Jesus is always extending to us the chance.