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There's a theme which threads its way through this conversation from beginning to end, and that is identity. It is the Samaritan woman who keeps the issue front and centre. She's subtle at first with this identity concern, so let's not miss it. First, in light of Jews and Samaritans disdain for one another, she is startled that Jesus even addresses her. Then when he begins to reveal his identity as the giver of living water, she suggests that he could hardly be greater than our father Jacob. That may be an allusion to their common ancestry, or it may be a subtle assertion that the Samaritans deserve some honour since they also trace their lineage back to the great patriarch at whose well they now stand.
But what was subtle in the woman's approach comes wide out into the open when she issues Jesus a challenge. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews say its necessary to worship in Jerusalem. Some suggest her question is an act of avoidance, an attempt to skirt around the truth about her personal shame which Jesus has just brought into the open (v.16-18). But Jesus honours her question and there may be more here than what seems apparent at first glance. Perhaps this has been a lingering question for this woman and, recognizing she is in the presence of a holy man, she seizes this opportunity to get it answered. We worship here, you worship there, who's right anyway? Differences. Controversy. Somebody's got to have it right. "As a prophet, what do you have to say, sir?" Well Jesus has a lot to say. Let's listen in....
As the conversation at the well unfolds, Jesus' words reveal
four characteristics of worship.
Worship is not a matter of place. Nor is it a matter of where you live or what group you belong to. True worship supersedes
these minor matters and locates the place of worship in the heart. There is significance too in Jesus reference to the Father,
which contrasts the woman's preoccupation with our fathers. While she seems concerned with the differences between the
two of them, Jesus looks beyond these differences. His focus is on the One Father, and when our focus is set on him also,
traditions, prejudices and differences of all kinds fade into the background.
God's identity, not our own, becomes the important thing.
A key word in this statement is from. It acknowledges that the Jews have been entrusted with knowledge of God, and recalls that they are to use their knowledge to be a blessing to all nations (Gen 12:3). Jesus shakes up the woman's perspective of exclusivity. He is inclusive and wants her to know that what he offers is also for her, even as a Samaritan outsider.It involves the whole person
The Father seeks those who will worship in spirit and in truth. The meaning of these familiar words often eludes us. How often do we go through the motions of worship, thinking we have fulfilled our duty by attending a service or reading a Bible passage or offering up a few prayers on the behalf of others, all without really engaging with God?
God is Spirit and, having been made in his image, we are most fully human, most fully alive, when our spirits are connecting with his. True worship involves engaging spirit with Spirit in loving relationship, and in frequent conversation. To worship in spirit goes beyond singing in church and involves adopting a lifestyle of habitually drawing close, spirit to Spirit, to the One who has made us for himself.It affirms the centrality of Jesus
With Jesus words swimming around in her head, the woman expresses her hope that Messiah will explain everything when he comes. Jesus declares to her that he is the Messiah. It is very significant that he tells her this, for Jesus rarely asserted this claim openly. Yet to this woman, and to this community of outsiders, he makes his identity known. In a conversation laden with questions of identity, it is fitting that it is here where Jesus first discloses his true identity. He is Messiah, the One who knows who he is, who dares to associate himself with Yahweh, the Ultimate I AM. To worship in spirit, it follows, involves keeping Christ and his identity as the Son of God front and centre.
Grace Poured Out
Worship in Truth
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* Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart, p.38.
Author's note: I wrote this series of meditations following my a course of study in NT Greek. I drew extensively from the English Standard Version which prioritizes a literal rendering of the original language. I also tried to bring across nuances which are often lost in translation because they make for poor English.