Healing of the man born blind - Page 3


The Feast of Tabernacles: water and light

The healing of the man born blind follows straight on from the previous two chapters in St John’s Gospel.  These relate to events which took place during the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles.  This autumn feast was one of great joy – a not to be missed occasion.  It celebrated the autumn harvest and included prayers for rain to help the new crops grow in the spring.  It was also a time to remember the years when the Jews journeyed in the wilderness, to recall the pillar of fire that led them by night and gave them light (Exodus 13:21) and the water that quenched their thirst in the desert when Moses struck the rock at Horeb (Exodus 17:6). (10)

Ceremonies of water and light were therefore two of the main ritual elements of the Feast of Tabernacles.  The water ceremony involved a daily procession to the Pool of Siloam where a priest collected water in a golden flagon.  This was carried into the Temple as the people sang, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (NRSV, Isaiah 12:3) and chanted Psalms 113 to 118.  The water was poured round the altar in the Temple. (11)

The light ceremony at the Feast involved setting up four large, golden candlesticks in the Court of the Women.  (Men and women could mix there).  The candlesticks were so tall that ladders were needed to reach the tops and light the wicks which floated in golden bowels of oil. (12) At night the men danced under the candlesticks holding torches, while instruments were played and psalms sung.  This was continued for seven nights making the city bright with light. (13)

It was during these celebrations that Jesus, amid hostile discussions with some of the Jewish people and leaders, proclaims:

“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” (NRSV, John 7:37).

“I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (NRSV, John 8:12).

Jesus also makes it plain that he has been sent by God (John 8:28-29, 42).  And in saying, “before Abraham was, I am” (NRSV, John 8:58) he means that he is eternal because he is God (14).  Chapter 8 of St John’s Gospel ends with the Jews picking up stones to throw at Jesus, who slips away and leaves the Temple.