At Mid-Pentecost–the mid-point between Pascha and Pentecost–we commemorate Jesus’s teaching in the temple “at about the middle of the feast” of Tabernacles. Jesus stands in the midst of the religious leaders and teaches, and as Jesus teaches they all wonder,”Where did he get his learning since he was never taught?” Jesus then reveals that His teaching is not His own, but His Father’s. The conversation goes on for almost the whole of John chapter 7, but the two statements that most intrigue me are the following:
“If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God, or whether I speak on my own” (v.17).
“He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (v.38).
The first verse tells us that discernment comes by doing, or at least by wanting or “willing” to do. We cannot know that Jesus’ teaching is from God, we cannot know that the teaching of the Church is from God, we cannot know if anything is from God unless we already will to do God’s will. In other words, one cannot know what is true, right and good–not really know it–unless one is already committed to doing it before one knows it.
Knowledge, however, is seldom an either/or matter–like elementary school math facts that one either knows or doesn’t. But even math facts, one learns as one studies mathematics more deeply, are much more nuanced, much less “hard fact” as we are led to believe as beginners. No, knowledge is usually something that grows. Knowledge grows in such a way that what is new does not abolish what is old; it illuminates it. And once illuminated, old knowledge takes on new meaning, and the new meaning moves us out of what is familiar, out of what is comfortable, out of what I thought I was in control of.
This is what is so hard about being willing to do God’s will. We want to do God’s will as we think we understand it now, not as it will be revealed to us. Like the Pharisees, we are comfortable with our knowledge of the Sabbath laws (for example), so we are willing to do God’s will so long as it is limited to what we already understand, what we feel we already have a certain control over. But to give God carte blanche, that’s another matter. To see the miracle performed on the Sabbath and let that illumine not only my knowledge of the Sabbath, but also my knowledge of the One who heals on the Sabbath–that’s too much. That’s more knowledge than the Pharisees wanted. And perhaps, sometimes that’s more knowledge than I want.
However, if I am ever going to grow in my knowledge of God, I must learn to let go of my comfort zone. I have to learn to trust God, to will to do His will even before I know what it is.
The next verse is a promise that I think helps us trust God. If we are thirsty (for spiritual reality and knowledge of God) and we come to Christ to drink, the spiritual water will flow from our own hearts. The spiritual water that Christ gives us is not something that comes from outside us. It flows from our hearts. It is part of us–even while it is something Christ gives.
The human heart is a mystery. The prophet Jeremiah asks, “who can know it?” We, most of us, spend most of our lives not really knowing our own hearts. We are pushed around by our passionate desires and confused thoughts to such a degree that we don’t ever really get to know ourselves. Our minds tell a story about ourselves that we call ourselves, but that is not really us. Who we really are and who we long to be is hidden in our hearts. That’s why we are thirsty. We are thirsty for truth, we are thirsty for reality, we are thirsty to be what we were created to be: Children of God.
It is this thirst that Christ quenches, but not from the outside. Knowledge of the true and the good and the beautiful does not come from outside (although guidance through example and instruction helps us find our way). True knowledge, the knowledge that quenches our thirst, comes from our heart. As we open the door of our heart to Christ, Christ opens the spring of our heart to flow with knowledge of God, knowledge of what is true and good and beautiful, and knowledge of ourselves: rivers of Living Water.
But to open our hearts to Christ, we must first will to do His will. This is what it means to open our hearts to Christ. We don’t need to fear. What God wills is what is in our hearts, in our hearts already. God’s will is not something foreign, it is not imposed from above or without. God’s will springs from the river of Life that Christ causes to flow from our heart. Yes, it does require a certain amount of letting go, of letting go of our false selves. Certainly, it will be somewhat different from what we are used to. And most probably it will be challenging, something we cannot do or be or become without the help of others. This is God’s way, the truly human way, the way of the body of Christ, the way of mutual dependence.
When we are willing to do God’s will, then the Living Water starts to flow from our hearts and we start to become ourselves, we start to become ourselves together.