Water and Spirit
By Fr. Ankido Sipo
The Bible, being the Words of God, is fascinating for many reasons, among which is the fact that God, in speaking to us through Scripture, uses human things to speak with us so that we may understand. This is in order to draw our minds from earthly things to heavenly things, by using earthly things to tilt our heads upward. In the case of this week’s Gospel reading (John 7), we see one of the essential elements of the earth being used as a means to draw us into the life of God. Water, a necessity even for earthly life, becomes an avenue for heavenly life. We run into God’s use of water from the very beginning of creation in the Book of Genesis, in fact, in only the second verse of the whole Bible: “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:2). From the start, the waters, made by God, are associated with his divine Spirit. The author wants to tell us: just as water is essential for bodily life, so is the Spirit of God essential for life in God, a true life. In fact, for a full human life, one needs both, water and Spirit. To rephrase Jesus’ response to Satan’s first temptation: man does not live by water alone, but by the indwelling of the Spirit of God.
Let’s fast forward; Jesus is crucified, “and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit…But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:30, 34). Again, we see the close association between the Spirit and water, this time at Jesus’ death. Just as God created the world in the beginning, and the Spirit was hovering over the waters, and both were present as essential for proper human living, so likewise do we find both when God is creating the world anew with the crucifixion and death of the Son of God. With all this in the background, we can understand this week’s Gospel reading.
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, ‘If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, “Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’ Now this he said about the Spirit, which 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). The Spirit and water were there when God created the world, the Spirit and water are there when God recreated the world, and Christ in this Gospel reading invites us into his own life, wherein we find all the essentials for true life, and where he, in his undying love for us, wants to recreate us. Let us, thirsty due to sin, hear St. Paul’s exhortation: “Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24).