Today’s passages: 2 Kings, chapter 21; 2 Chronicles, chapter 33; John, chapter 4
Scripture: John 4:16-26 (NRSV) – Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying , ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”
Observations: This story of Jesus’ encounter with the “woman at the well” is my favorite passage in all of Scripture. I’ve always loved it because of the moment when Jesus recites her marital history, showing her that he knew everything about her, because in that moment she realized that even though he knew all of her sin, all of her problems, and everything else, he still loved her and cared about her. God wants every one of us to realize that same thing!
But that’s not what I’m reflecting on today. It’s easy when we read familiar passages to just breeze through them and miss a lot of the detail. That’s the reason why I use a different translation of Scripture each year as I do these readings, to help me to really focus on what I’m reading and to see the nuances of the stories. We all have stories. In fact, the Bible is a story – the story of God and his interaction with humanity. Part of the joy of stories is discovering those little details. So today, there are a couple of things that stood out to me as I read this passage. First, there are two times when Jesus uses the phrase, “the hour is coming.” That stands out in part because of the importance of Jesus’ “hour” in the overall structure of John’s gospel. But in this passage, the “hour” that Jesus talks about is not “his” our, but the hour for appropriate worship of the Father. The woman talks about the proper place for worship, but Jesus makes it clear there is no one location to worship God. For people – Jews and Samaritans – who had long argued about whether “real” worship had to be in Jerusalem, this was a startling revelation.
But it’s the second use of “the hour is coming” that really catches my attention, because Jesus says, “and is now here.” The time for “true worship” had come, and that worship was to be “in spirit and in truth.” That kind of worshiper – the kind the Father seeks – worships God in all things, wherever they are, because they recognize God’s presence, his power, his provision, and his protection every day. That doesn’t mean that we get to make up our own rules about worship; to worship God in spirit and in truth means that we acknowledge that God is sovereign – which means that we obey him. He has given us, in his word, instructions relating to worship. To worship him in spirit and in truth doesn’t mean that we ignore those instructions; it means that we don’t allow worship to become a mere ritual, going through the motions without really participating to the depths of our being.
The final thing that catches my attention today is the fact that Jesus revealed himself as the Messiah to this woman. The reason that’s important is because if there were a list of people to whom the Messiah would be likely to be revealed, a Samaritan woman would have been about as far down that list as you can imagine. It was astonishing to his disciples that Jesus was even talking to her when they came back from town (see verse 27); they would never have expected him to reveal himself to her as the Messiah. But God doesn’t limit himself to ways, or people, that we might expect. He’s seeking people who will worship him in spirit and in truth – really worship him, not just go through the motions. Jesus saw something in this woman to let him know that she was seeking to be that kind of worshiper – so he told her that he is the Messiah. And she couldn’t wait to tell others!
Applications: God is reminding me today what it means to worship him in spirit and in truth. It is so easy for us to slip into the mode of evaluating other people and their worship, and to think that our way of worshiping is “right”; God wants us to get our eyes off others, and ourselves, and onto him. When I worship him in spirit and in truth, his Spirit reveals his truth to me, and I can walk in it. I don’t decide whether someone is worthy to hear about Jesus – like many people would have done with the Samaritan woman; I simply share the good news every time God opens the door for me to do so. Often, those doors will be open because I worship him in spirit and in truth; his presence and his peace become evident. Many times, the people that we think are the least likely to respond are the ones who are most ready, because God has prepared their hearts to hear. Worshiping God in spirit and in truth means that we allow him to align our spirits with his, so he can lead us in his truth.
Prayer: Father, I thank you for reminding me today that you don’t choose those that we might think are the “best candidates” – not for salvation, and not for ministry. You choose those who are willing to respond, to worship you in spirit and in truth. Help me today to worship you in spirit and in truth; help me to walk in your ways, that you may draw others to yourself. Help me to do your will today, and to be a person who helps others to come into contact with your kingdom. Amen.