The last day of the Feast of the Tents was the most significant. The week-long jubilation at the end of the year and the new harvest were almost over. The pilgrims who were jampacked in Jerusalem bade their last farewell to the Holy City by attending the solemn rite of the water in the Pool of Siloam, beside the walls by the south…
Abiah: Everything’s all set for the procession, huh, Priest Zirah?
Zirah: Right. In a little while, we’ll go to the temple to get the silver jug. Are you coming with us, Magistrate Nicodemus?
Nicodemus: Why, of course….
Abiah: For sure he’ll be there too… All these days he’s been hovering around the temple with his pals from Galilee….
Abiah: Who else, but that Jesus of Nazareth. He’s been putting our patience to the limits! He does nothing but bring trouble or join the troublemakers.
Zirah: Thank God the Almighty, this will soon be over. The rotten apple must be removed so as not to spoil the rest*…. ha, ha, ha… don’t you think so?
Nicodemus: What do you mean, Zirah?
Zirah: I mean, we’ve already discussed this with Caiphas, the high priest, who has given us his authorization….
Nicodemus: What for?
Abiah: To get the troublemaker. The holiday ends today… and so does his glibness with the holiday today. A stint in jail will knock his senses off!….
Nicodemus: But, how can that be possible! Are you out of your mind? You cannot condemn anyone without trying him. That’s the Law.
Zirah: Nicodemus, don’t you think we’ve had enough of his silly talk? He’s filled up the whole Galilee with all his nonsense, and now he wants to stir up the whole capital! Don’t you know what happened the other day to the adulteress? They were going to stone her to death, as the Law of Moses demands.
Nicodemus: Of course I know! The entire Jerusalem has been talking about that…
Abiah: Well, now they’ll all be silenced! Everything’s over! We’ll get rid of the agitator from our midst.
Nicodemus: Take it easy, my friends. People say that Jesus is a prophet…
Zirah: Of course, it’s the wine that made him see things… A prophet! Bah! Only thieves and rascals could come from Galilee!
Nicodemus: This man is different, Zirah. I talked to him once, and believe me, I…
Zirah: So you were also wheedled by him? Why don’t you open your eyes, Magistrate Nicodemus! Has any one of our chiefs and pharisees believed in him? Look at his followers: a gang of rogues, who neither bathe nor obey the Law of Moses! Damn!
Nicodemus: Hear him speak first. All I ask is that you listen to him speak.
Abiah: We’ll get him first. Then we’ll figure out what to do with him, ha, ha, ha… Priest Zirah, tell the guards to come. They ought to be instructed on what to do, ha, ha, ha…
Later, in the afternoon, the streets near the pool of Siloam were teeming with people. With branches of palm trees in our hands, we waited for the procession of the priests who headed for the fountain with a silver jug to be filled with holy water and poured later on the temple’s altar…. The lighted torches illumined the afternoon in Jerusalem….
Zirah: Let us give thanks to the Lord who is good!
All: His love is forever!
Zirah: Let the whole house of Israel declare it!
All: His love is forever!
Zirah: Let the house of Aaron declare it!
All: His love is forever!
Zirah: Let all the friends of the Lord declare it!
All: His love is forever!
The solemn procession reached the Pool of Siloam. A priest, wearing an embroidered dalmatic, descended the humid stairs toward the spring that supplied drinking water to the people of the city of King David. Then he leaned over to fill the silver jug with water….
Zirah: This, my children, is the holy water that purifies, that quenches our thirst, the life-giving water! Praised be the name of the Lord and lift up your branches in His honor!
Then something unexpected happened. Jesus climbed through one corner of the pool and shouted so loud for everyone to hear….
Jesus: My friends, listen to me! This water is stagnant; don’t drink from it! The living water is something else! The living water is the Spirit of God!
A Man: What the hell is this sot trying to do, yelling at the top of his voice?
Another Man: Get him out of there, he’s distracting the people and disrupting the procession!
Jesus: My friends, the Spirit of God hovers around the water, making new things like in the beginning of creation! Those of you who thirst for justice, come and be one with us, and in your heart will spring forth a river of living water, like the torrent seen by the prophet Ezekiel, that inundated the earth and purged her of all her sins!
A Man: What’s all this mess around here? Until when shall we put up with this rascal? Why can’t you shut him up?
Another Man: Hey, isn’t he the same guy who they say is a prophet, and whom they wanted killed?… How can he go on shouting, yet no one is arresting him?
A Woman: Maybe the chiefs of the Sanhedrin have been converted and now they believe that this troublemaker is the Messiah after all!
A Man: What stupidity! The Messiah will descend from heaven enveloped in a cloud of incense! This guy comes from Galilee, reeking of onions!
Jesus was between James and me. We were surrrounded by an avalanche of people. The priests in the procession, infuriated by the incident, left the jug of water and the branches of palm trees, and called for the guards. But Jesus continued talking…
Jesus: My friends, look above you! Look at those torches that illumine the walls of the city!…. The New Jerusalem will be as bright! I bring you good news which is the light of the world! The news is that God, our Father, is offering us, those who are down here, his Kingdom. God is light, and his Spirit is a torch that will give light to the earth; yes, the light to the four corners of the earth, the light that will burn all the scum, giving birth to a world where there are no rich nor poor, no masters nor slaves, a new heaven and earth where only justice will reign!
A Woman: Let’s get out of here, Lenore, I don’t like the way things will end up here!
Another Woman: Damn, why do they have to mix God’s work with politics?
A Woman: C’mon, run, the beating and stoning will start any time now….
A Man: This blabber mouth must be a Galilean, I say!
Another Man: Such nice words, huh? Such big lies!
Man: Shut up, you beast, and hold your tongue! Can’t you see this man is sent by God?
Man: What are you talking about? Look at him! He’s nothing but a crazy man who wants us all to be like him! Hey, will someone push him down from that wall?
Man: This man is possessed by the devil. Can’t you hear it, Nazarene? The devil of rebellion is inside you!
Jesus: No my friend, there is no devil inside me. I’m here to tell you the truth. The truth hurts, and that’s why some of you refuse to listen!
Man: Ignore this kook! He talks a lot! It’s the devil who sent him!
Man: What about those people over there? Who sent them then?
Woman: Well, they are the good demons! Let’s get out of here, neighbor, things are getting out of hand!
From the cobbled street descending from Mount Zion to the Pool of Siloam, four soldiers of the Temple who were sent by the priests were heading toward Jesus to arrest him…
A Soldier: That’s it, Galilean! You’ve caused enough trouble already…. Beat it, all of you!… C’mon, I told you to disperse!…. Hey, you, get down from that wall, or we’ll get you down ourselves…!
Jesus: Why, what’ve I done?
Another Soldier: You’re under arrest. Come with us.
Jesus: Me, under arrest? What’s my offense?
Soldier: We’ve got orders from the high priest.
Jesus: But why, what are they accusing me of?
Soldier: Search me, and I don’t give a damn. We’ve got a warrant of arrest signed by the high priest.
Jesus: And who is he?
Soldier: Are you so dumb you don’t even know who he is? You must be a peasant…!
Jesus: Until lately, soldier, you were also a peasant like me… You and your pals… Don’t you remember anymore?… Sure, I know the high priest of the Temple… Caiphas, a “great man”…. And you work for him, don’t you?
Soldier: Stop that nonsense, Galilean. I said you’re under arrest.
Jesus: Let’s all go to jail then!… This is amusing!… Prisoners taking other prisoners…
Soldier: What crazy thing are you talking about?
Jesus: Oh, nothing, except that you are more prisoner than I am. You, who are guardians of the temple, have fallen into the snare of the priests and your chiefs, and you can’t get away from them. You, who had the same origin as we did, sucked the same milk and tilled the same earth. Show me your hands, soldier… can’t you see we’ve got the same calloused hands?… You used to be one with us… and you still are. But the so-called great men make you fight against us. They put the sword and the lance in your hands to kill us, and they filled your hearts with hatred…. They don’t stand up for you. They use you. You are prisoners in uniform with a handful of coins they had robbed from us…. And this is the truth. If you understand, then it will set you free.
The murmurings of the people were gradually disappearing. The four soldiers facing Jesus looked at him intently. They were no longer holding their lances furiously. After looking at each other, they gave a half turn and left…
Zirah: These four imbeciles deserve twenty beatings each and a month’s arrest! And a fine of fifty denarii! Go to hell, all of you!
Abiah: …What has happened, Priest Zirah?
Zirah: Those stupid soldiers… They’ve let him go..
Abiah: Why?…. Why didn’t they arrest him?
Zirah: Say something, stupid, or you get twenty lashes more!
Soldier: We couldn’t. We had never heard a man speak…. the way he did.
Zirah: I told you, Abiah! This man is more dangerous than he seems to be! See how he has deceived them! Damn this agitator!… Out of my sight, the four of you!…. You’ll go to jail for this! And I want to hear the sound of lashes from here! That will teach them to obey orders!
Meanwhile, water continued to flow in the Pool of Siloam. The torches on the last day of the Feast of the Tents illumined the walls and the massive towers of King David’s city.
The last day of the Feast of the Tents was celebrated with the most pomp. The traditional processions were highlighted with bunches and sprays of palm trees, willow trees, lemon and other trees, while psalms were being sung, specially Psalm 118. Liturgy likewise incorporated in the feast the symbol of water, where, in a procession, the priests carried water in a silver jug from the fountain of Siloam – which was situated outside the walled city – to be poured on the altar of sacrifice. During this rite, people prayed to God for abundant rain in preparation for the new planting season.
Palestine, a land wanting in water, has the Jordan as her only important river. Rain is a decisive factor in the national economy. The rainy season lasts from October to April. In summer it hardly rains. The early rains (from mid-October to mid-November) prepare the land, hardened by the summer heat, for sowing. The cold rains (from December to January) which are more abundant, give rise to fertile lands that extend through the valleys. Between one rainy season and another comes the period of planting that lasts until February. The late rains (March and April) are all indispensable to good harvest. That is why, in this feast, people prayed to God specifically for abundant rain. People prayed for a fertile land, and for the fulfillment of the prophecies proclaiming the day of the Messiah where water would flow abundantly from the springs of Jerusalem, until they merged with the sea. The Feast of the Tents was, therefore, viewed with a Messianic color that annually rekindled the people’s hope for liberation.
Israel’s ancient traditions compared the Spirit of God with water that fertilizes sterile land, reaping from it the fruits of justice, peace, and faithfulness to the Lord (Is 32:15-18 and 44:3-5). It was the Spirit that converted Israel to a country of prophets and transformed hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. In Jesus’ time, the tradition of the rabbis and doctors, which was more callous and rigid, had neglected this vital symbolism to compare water, not with the Spirit, but with the Law. The prophetic gesture of Jesus in the middle of the ceremony, his solemn proclamation, aims to bring back the original symbolism of water: that is, water is like the Spirit. And the Spirit of God always creates new things.
From the first day of the Feast of the Tents, huge candles in golden candelabras were lighted and placed in the women’s patio in the Temple. The procession of the water passed through this. Each set of candlesticks held four golden bowls with oil, where wicks made of threads taken from the priests’ vestment remained lighted. One had to use a ladder to reach these bowls as they were placed so high so that their lights could be seen throughout the whole city. The prophets, in talking about the day of the Messiah, mentioned a light that would surpass the night (Zec 14:6-7). Those torches, therefore, had Messianic meaning. Prophetic tradition had always associated the Messiah with light, such that he was referred to as “Light” (Is 60:1). Starting from this symbolism, Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God: a Kingdom with no shadow of injustice, but illumined by free people. Butting in the middle of the official liturgy, before the religious leaders of the Temple, was such a grave scandal that the priests immediately decided to have Jesus arrested and accused of blasphemy.
The “temple guards” sent by the priests to arrest Jesus were composed of Levites, employees of the Temple with a rank lesser than that of the priests. One of their functions was to serve as policemen. These soldiers had the power to arrest, to confiscate weapons and even to mete out punishments. They were not only in the service of the priests, but they were also engaged by the Roman military authorities to control people’s rallies in Judea. Jesus confronted these armed men with firmness, but with understanding, and in spite of their privileged position, these men felt alluded to by Jesus’ words.
(Jn 7:37-39 and 43-53; 8:l2-38)