The Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) does a ‘Hajj’

We are all familiar with Hajj since it is celebrated every year when Muslims perform the required acts of devotion in the pilgrimage to Mecca.  What is less known is that the Sharia law of Musa (PBUH), received 3500 years ago, also required Jewish believers of that time to make sacred pilgrimages to Jerusalem (Al-Quds) every year.  One such pilgrimage was called the Feast of Tabernacles (or Sukkot).  This pilgrimage ordered by the prophet Musa (PBUH) has many similarities to that of the Hajj today.  For example, both of these pilgrimages were on a specific week of the calendar, both involved sacrifices of animals, both involved obtaining special water, both involved sleeping outdoors, and both involved marching around a sacred structure seven times.  In a sense, the Feast of Tabernacles was like a Hajj for Jews.  Today, in fact, Jews still celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles but do it a little differently since their Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

The Injil records how the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) did the pilgrimage for this Feast one year – his ‘Hajj’.  I reproduce the account with some explanations when appropriate.

Jesus Goes to the Festival of Tabernacles (John 7)

After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

Here his brothers were treating the prophet with sarcasm since they did not believe in him.  But something happened later which caused a change in his brothers because two of his brothers, James and Jude, later wrote letters (called James and Jude) that are part of the New Testament (Injil).

Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.

10 However, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went also, not publicly, but in secret. 11 Now at the festival the Jewish leaders were watching for Jesus and asking, “Where is he?”

12 Among the crowds there was widespread whispering about him. Some said, “He is a good man.”

Others replied, “No, he deceives the people.” 13 But no one would say anything publicly about him for fear of the leaders.

Jesus Teaches at the Festival

14 Not until halfway through the festival did Jesus go up to the temple courts and begin to teach. 15 The Jews there were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?”

16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17 Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.

18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19 Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

20 “You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?”

21 Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. 22 Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23 Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? 24 Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.”

Division Over Who Jesus Is

25 At that point some of the people of Jerusalem began to ask, “Isn’t this the man they are trying to kill? 26 Here he is, speaking publicly, and they are not saying a word to him. Have the authorities really concluded that he is the Messiah? 27 But we know where this man is from; when the Messiah comes, no one will know where he is from.”

As you can see, the discussion in that time among the Jews was whether the Prophet Isa (PBUH) was the Masih (Messiah) or not.  The Jewish people believed that the place where the Masih would come from would be unknown.  Since they knew where Isa came from they thought that he could therefore not be the Masih.  So where did they get this belief that the origin of the Masih would not be known?  From Taurat?  Writings of Prophets?  Not at all!  The prophets had clearly stated where the Masih would come from.  The prophet Micah (PBUH) in 700 BC had written in Zabur that

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    though you are small among the clans of Judah,
out of you will come for me
    one who will be ruler over Israel,
whose origins are from of old,
    from ancient times.” (Micah 5:2)

This prophecy (see article here for more details on this) had stated that the ruler (= Masih) would come from Bethlehem.  We saw in the birth of the Masih that he was indeed born in Bethlehem as that prophecy had predicted 700 years before his birth.

It was simply religious tradition of the time that said that the place where the Masih came from would be unknown.  They made an error because they did not judge by what the prophets had written but instead judged by opinion on the street, the ideas of their day.  We need to be careful that we do not make the same mistake.

The account continues…

28 Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29 but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”

30 At this they tried to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come. 31 Still, many in the crowd believed in him. They said, “When the Messiah comes, will he perform more signs than this man?”

32 The Pharisees heard the crowd whispering such things about him. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees sent temple guards to arrest him.

33 Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. 34 You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”

35 The Jews said to one another, “Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him? Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks, and teach the Greeks? 36 What did he mean when he said, ‘You will look for me, but you will not find me,’ and ‘Where I am, you cannot come’?”

37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

On this day of the Festival the Jews would take water from a special spring on the south of Jerusalem and enter into the city through the ‘water gate’ and take the water to the altar in the temple.  It was while they were doing this sacred water ceremony that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) cried out, as he had said before, that he was the source of ‘Living Water’.  In saying this he was reminding them of the thirst in our hearts leading to sin that the prophets had written about, as well as the promise of the coming Spirit who would be given to those who believed in him to satisfy this thirst so that they need not longer be slaves to sin.

40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

41 Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? 42 Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?” 43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. 44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

Back then, just like today, people were divided about the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH). As we saw above, the prophets had predicted the birth of the Masih to be in Bethlehem (where Isa was born).  But what about this question of the Masih not coming from Galilee?  Isaiah the prophet (PBUH) had written in 700 BC that

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9: 1-2)

So the prophets had predicted that the Masih would begin his teaching (a light has dawned) in ‘Galilee’ – the very place where Isa had indeed begun his teaching and did most of his miracles.  Again the people were mistaken because they had not carefully studied the prophets and instead only believed what was commonly taught by their teachers.

Unbelief of the Jewish Leaders

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

We can see that the experts in the Law were completely wrong since Isaiah had prophesied that the enlightening would come from ‘Galilee’.

Two lessons come to me from this account.  First it is very easy to perform our religious activities with much zeal but with little knowledge.  As we approach Hajj we need to be careful that the following is not true of us

For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. (Romans 10:2)

We need to learn what the prophets have written so we are properly informed.

Second, we see here that the Prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) makes an offer.  He said at their Hajj that

Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.

This offer is given to ‘anyone’ (thus not only to Jews, or Christians, or Muslims etc.) who ‘is thirsty’.  Are you thirsty?  (See here for what the prophets meant by this).  It is good to drink from the zamzam well.  Why not also drink from the Masih who can satisfy our inner thirst?

Isa al Masih (PBUH) offers ‘Living Water’

Previously we learned how the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught how we should treat those we consider to be our enemies. In our present-day world where we have conflict between Sunni and Shiite, supporters and opponents of Assad in Syria, Palestinians and Israelis … in Iraq … in Ukraine – no matter what country you may find yourself in there is most likely conflict between different groups where people hate and kill each other. This has turned our world into hellish misery. Isa al Masih (PBUH) taught in this Parable that our entry into Paradise was dependant on how we treated our enemies!   We should carefully consider this if we want entry into Paradise.

But it is easy to teach one thing, yet act quite differently. Even many imams and other religious teachers have taught one thing but lived quite another. What about the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH)? On one occasion he had an encounter with a Samaritan. (Remember that in his day there was enmity between Jews and Samaritans that is similar to that between Palestinians and Israelis today). Here is how the Injil records the encounter.

Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman

Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17 “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”  (John 4:1-42)

Notice how the Samaritan woman was surprised that the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) would even initiate a conversation with her – there was considerable enmity between Jews and Samaritans in that day. Isa started by asking to drink some of the water she was drawing from the well. He did this for two reasons. First, as it says, he was thirsty and wanted a drink. But he (being a prophet) also knew that she was thirsty in an entirely different way. She was thirsty for joy and satisfaction in her life. She thought she could satisfy this thirst by having unlawful relations with men. So she had had several husbands and even as she was speaking to the prophet she was living with a man who was not her husband. Everyone viewed her as immoral. This is probably why she had gone alone to get water at noon since the other women in the village did not want her to be with them when they went to the well in the cool of the morning. This woman had had many men, and her shame alienated her from the women in the village.

We saw in the Zabur how the prophets wrote how sin is from a deep thirst in our lives – a thirst that must be quenched. Many today, whatever their religion, live in sinful ways because of this thirst.

But the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) did not avoid this sinful woman.  Instead he told her that he could give her ‘living water’ that would quench her thirst. But he was not speaking of physical water (which as he said if you drank once you would be thirsty again later) but a change in her heart, a change from the inside. The prophets of the Zabur had prophesied that this Covenant of a new heart was coming. Isa al Masih (PBUH) offered her this new covenant of a changed heart ‘welling up to eternal life’.

To Believe – Confessing in truth

But this offer of ‘living water’ threw the woman into a crisis. When Isa told her to get her husband he was purposefully causing her to recognize and admit her sin – to confess it. This is something we avoid at all costs! We prefer to hide our sins, hoping no one will see. Or we rationalize, making excuses for our sin.   Adam & Eve had done this in the Garden and still today we prefer to hide or excuse our sin. But if we want to experience the Mercy of God leading to ‘eternal life’ then we must be honest and admit our sin, because the Injil promises that:

If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

For this reason, when the prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) told the Samaritan woman that

God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth...

By ‘truth’ he meant being truthful and authentic about ourselves, not trying to hide or excuse our wrong. The wonderful news is that Allah ‘seeks’ and will not turn away worshipers who come with honesty like this.

But it was too difficult for her to admit her sin. A common way to hide our shame is to change the subject from our sin to that of a religious dispute. Today the world is full of religious disputes. In that day there was a religious dispute between the Samaritans and the Jews regarding the proper place of worship. The Jews stated that worship should be done in Jerusalem and Samaritans held that it should be on a mountain further north called Mount Gerizim. By switching to this religious dispute she was hoping to divert the conversation from her sin. She could now hide her sin behind this religious dispute.

How easily and naturally we do the same thing – especially if we are religious. Then we can judge how others are wrong or how we are correct – all the while ignoring our need to confess our sin.

The prophet Isa al Masih (PBUH) did not enter into this dispute with her. He insisted that it was not so much the place of worship, but her honesty about herself in worship that mattered. She could come before Allah anywhere (since He is Spirit), but she needed to come in truth about herself before she could receive this ‘living water’.

She now had an important decision to make. She could continue trying to hide behind a religious dispute or perhaps just leave. But she finally chose to admit her sin – to confess – so much so that she went back to the village to tell others how this prophet knew her and what she had done. She did not hide anymore. In doing this she became a ‘believer’. She had been religious before, as many of us are, but now she – and many in her village – became ‘believers’.

To become a believer is not simply about mentally asserting correct teaching – important though that is. It is also about believing that His promise of mercy can be trusted, and therefore there is no longer a need to cover up sin. This is what the Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) had done so long ago to obtain righteousness – he trusted a promise.

Do you excuse or hide your sin? Do you hide it with devout religious practice or religious dispute? Or do you confess your sin? Why not come before Allah our Creator and truthfully confess sin causing guilt and shame? Then you can rejoice that He ‘seeks’ your worship and will ‘purify’ you from all unrighteousness. For sure we need to continue in the Injil to understand how He will do this and how we should live. We see from the conversation that this woman’s understanding of the prophet Isa (PBUH) as the ‘Messiah’ (= ‘Christ’ = ‘Masih’) was important and that after the prophet Isa (PBUH) had stayed and taught them for two days they understood him as ‘the Saviour of the world’.  Perhaps we do not fully understand what this all means.  But as the Prophet Yahya (PBUH) had prepared the people to understand, to confess our sin will prepare us to receive Mercy from Him. This is indeed a step on the Straight Way.

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’