The passage from the Gospel of John shows Jesus attending the pilgrim feast of Sukkoth (a.k.a. Tabernacles, or Booths). Three years ago, shortly after 9/11, I happened to be in Jerusalem at the time of this feast. The old city was filled with colorful tents, or booths, set up everywhere, on side streets, on rooftops, in courtyards. It is still one of the three big feasts when Jews come to Jerusalem to celebrate a significant moment of salvation history. The booths, originally sun shelters put up during the grape harvest, became reminders of the shelters used during the Hebrews’ sojourning in the desert after the Exodus. The feast looks both backwards and forwards—backwards in gratitude for God’s caring providence as experienced during desert sojourn, and forwards to the messianic age, when the Spirit of God would be poured out. This latter dimension was symbolized by the pouring out of water from Siloam on the temple altar. Jesus will apply that symbolism to himself a little later in John 7 when he stands up on the last day of the feast and says, “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’” (John 7:37-38). John explains that Jesus said this in reference to the Spirit that those who came to believe in him were to receive.
In participating in this feast and its services, Jesus was surely exercising the Jewish faith that he shared with his fellow pilgrims. At the same time, he had his own mission. Despite his awareness that some were plotting to take his life, he trusts in the providence of the Father and goes to Jerusalem. He trusts that he will not be killed before his “hour.” From the rest of the Gospel story, we also know that he trusts that even his death will not be the end.
Jesus’ faith is exactly that of the righteous one portrayed in today’s reading from Wisdom. This reading is not, first of all, a prophecy. A Jew, writing in Alexandria just a few generations before the time of Jesus, most likely at a time when Jews were experiencing persecution there, writes about a perennial situation: powerful and faithless men, speaking with arrogant conviction that “might makes right” (see Wisdom 2:11), prepare to gang up on a man of faith, simply because his goodness and faith challenges and annoys them.
“He calls blest the destiny of the just and boasts that God is his Father,” they say. “Let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, He will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes.”
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