A Samaritan Woman

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : John 4:7-15, 20-26

The United States Marine Corps used to say it was looking “for a few good men.” Would it surprise you to learn that God is also looking for people of a certain kind?

Jesus was passing through Samaria one day, on his way from Judea back up to Galilee, and since it was hot (as always), and the road was dusty (as usual), around mid-day he stopped for a drink of water and a rest. Fatigued by the journey, Jesus sent his disciples off to buy some food while he sat by a well just outside a little village called Sychar and waited for someone to come along who could draw water and give him a drink. By and by a woman approached the well to draw water, and they struck up a conversation.

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”

. . . 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.)

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.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob . . .?”

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

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.”

John 4:7-15, NIV

In this remarkable encounter with the Samaritan woman, Jesus began by talking about himself. He used the ready-to-hand illustration of life-giving water in order to pique the woman’s interest and reveal something of his true identity to her. Jesus is the living water, the water that gives eternal life. The woman was intrigued, although somewhat bewildered as well by Christ’s symbolic allusion. Then he changed the subject and began to speak to the woman about herself.

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

“I have no husband,” she replied.

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

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

John 4:16-18

Isn’t this an interesting turn to the conversation? It turns out that this Samaritan woman’s life was a mess; having gone through half a dozen men or so, she was presently living in an adulterous relationship. Maybe she was even a prostitute, but whatever her case, this woman had plenty to hide. Of course she could hide nothing from the Lord Jesus, for he looked straight into her heart, into the center of her personality, and saw everything that was there. As Jesus began to talk to her about her life the woman at the well reacted with a mixture of astonishment and embarrassment. She was first of all astonished by how much Jesus knew about her, a total stranger to him. But she must have been even more surprised at the fact that, knowing what kind of life she had led, Jesus, a Jewish rabbi, was still willing to speak to her, a sinful Samaritan woman. There should have been a barrier between them that would have cut off all possibility of communication. But apparently it doesn’t matter to Jesus what we may have done; he’s still interested in us. No life is too messy for him to care about and involve himself with.

The woman’s astonishment was mixed with embarrassment, however, because Jesus’ conversation was getting into things she really would have preferred not to talk about. His knowing comments were making her uncomfortable. So the woman tried to change the subject to something safer by asking Jesus a religious question. (It’s always easier to discuss some sort of doctrinal difference or theological controversy than it is to deal with one’s own real life problems.) So the Samaritan woman asked Jesus where the proper place to worship was, referring to the old disagreement between Jews and Samaritans. Their animosity was a combination of racial tension, religious disagreement and political quarreling and went all the way back to the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Jesus answered the woman’s question with a statement that went far beyond local controversies to reveal profound truths about both God and the nature of true worship:

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

John 4:21-26

WHAT GOD WANTS MOST

I recall reading an article about a business called Headhunters, Inc., an organization that does executive recruitment. Headhunters, Inc. scours the ranks of corporations to find talented executives who can then be lured away to new jobs by companies with personnel needs. In fact, the article told about one man who was racking up promotions at an astonishing rate. His secret was that whenever he got into a new position his first act was to submit his boss’s name to Headhunter’s, Inc., and soon there was an opening above him! Well, certain people are in great demand. I think of the old slogan of the U.S. Marine Corps, “We’re looking for a few good men.” Some folks possess qualities which are greatly prized, skills that are highly sought after.

But did you ever stop to think that God is also seeking people of a certain kind, those with a special skill? According to Jesus, what the Father wants most is to find people who will worship him. In a man-centered world he is looking for God-centered people. Among a human race where for the vast majority their life orbits around the sun of their own ego, God is seeking those who are different, who have broken free from the pull of self and whose lives will revolve around him instead.

Worship means acknowledging God as supreme. To worship God requires organizing our lives with him as the center of attention. It demands that we abandon every pursuit which conflicts with God and leads away from him, and give ourselves to everything that pleases God and leads toward him. Just the basic vocabulary of worship is instructive. The word worship derives from the Old English word worth-ship, meaning “to declare the worth of something, to honor or praise that which is of surpassing value.” The English translation of one of the common New Testament words for worship means “to bend the knee,” as in the presence of a superior. Worship is so much more than just chatting with God, or calling on him as helper or friend. True worship cannot really take place between equals or comrades or colleagues; rather, it is the fundamental allegiance which is owed by creatures to their Creator. You can only worship that which is above you.

Worship, as we know from the Bible, is the activity of heaven. It is what the redeemed offer to their Savior and Lord. Right now at this moment all the hosts of heavenly angels and redeemed humans are falling down before the throne of God, lost in wonder, love and praise (see Rev. 4 & 5). The insight that Jesus offers here in his conversation with the woman at the well is that God is most interested in finding people here and now who will begin to do on earth that which is already happening in heaven: to worship him in spirit and in truth.

WHERE TO WORSHIP

So the worshipers God is looking for are those who worship in a certain way, namely, “in spirit and in truth.” What did Jesus mean by that? At first glance it appears that Jesus is giving instructions about how proper worship is to be done. You don’t just worship any old way, you have to worship in this particular way, that is, in spirit and in truth. Which leads us to ask: How do you do that? Do these two terms “spirit and truth” perhaps refer to qualities in us? Is Jesus telling us that in order to worship rightly we must first worship God with our spirit or in a spiritual way? Is this what it means to worship “in spirit” that our devotion to God must arise sincerely, from within us, not just be a matter of externals or going through the motions? And to worship in truth does that mean that our approach to God must be true in its content and ideas? Is it important to have our doctrine correct in order to offer worship that is pleasing to God? Taken together these qualifying phrases would mean that right worship is worship which is both honest and heartfelt and based on the Bible.

That’s certainly true enough. We should be sincere and thoughtful when we pray. Our thoughts and our words as we honor the Lord in worship ought to be shaped by the truth of Scripture. But when Jesus says we must worship in spirit and in truth, I don’t believe he is referring primarily to subjective qualities in us, good and necessary though these things are. What then did he mean?

Let’s remember the specific thing he is talking about. You remember, the Samaritan woman had tried to put Jesus off by asking a religious question, a doctrinal question, and the Lord is now answering that question. It was a question about where to worship. “Where is the proper place to worship,” she wanted to know, “Is it here on our mountain as we Samaritans believe, or is it in the Temple in Jerusalem as you Jews say?” Jesus’ answer: Neither place. And then he adds, “The time is coming and now is,” when true worship of the Father will not be dependent on a building or a location or on any outward, physical thing. It will not be offered in one particular place. No, true worship will be offered through a particular Person. The great new thing, the dramatic difference that means that the time for change has come, is the presence of Jesus himself in the world. He is the key to worshiping God in spirit and in truth. The Spirit is his Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. The Truth is Jesus Himself, the very Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ the Way, the Truth and the Life. All who come to the Father must now come by, through and in him.

So it no longer matters where we worship, for wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, there he is in the midst. God is not limited to any given place, to any sacred site. It’s no longer important to have a temple, for our bodies are now the temple of the presence of God, the Holy Spirit. God does not live in special buildings made with human hands. He dwells within us, and we will dwell with him in Christ. So this is right worship: to worship in spirit and truth is to worship God the Father, in and through his Son, by the power of his Spirit.

Think of it. God himself is looking for people, whoever they are, wherever he finds them, who will worship him that way. Are you such a person?