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03 March 2020

Jesus, the Place of True Worship

SYNOPSIS:  Jesus revealed to the Samaritan woman at the well that the presence of God is no longer limited to specific locations or manmade structures. 

In the fourth chapter of John's gospel, Jesus declares the proper form and LOCATION of the true worship of the Father. The old concept of holy space no longer is relevant (John 4:20-24).

Even at this early point in his ministry, Jesus experienced opposition from the Jerusalem temple authorities.  He, therefore, determined to depart Judea for more receptive ground in Galilee.  The most direct route there was through the Samaritan territory, which many Jews avoided by taking a more circuitous route. Not so Jesus (John 4:1-3).

On the way, he encountered a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in the city of Sychar and asked her for water. This surprised her since devout Jews avoided contact with Samaritans and it was socially awkward for a Jewish male to communicate with an unrelated female in public.

Jesus responded, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is speaking to you, you would ask, and he would give you living water.”  She assumed he meant water and asked how he could draw any from the well since he had no vessel with which to do so.  She then asked, “Are you greater than Jacob who gave us the well?”

Jesus responded further, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again. Whoever drinks of the water I will give will never thirst; it will become in him a well of water springing up unto everlasting life.” The Samaritan woman asked him to give her this “living water” and he, in turn, told her to “summon your husband.” She claimed to have no husband, to which he responded: “You have had five husbands and he whom you now have is not your husband; you have spoken truly.”

The woman perceived Jesus to be a prophet and, therefore, asked him about an old dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans; “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain and you say that in Jerusalem is the place necessary to worship!” The Samaritans were a mixed-race that worshipped the God of Israel.  Unlike the Jews, they recognized only the five books of Moses as Scripture. The dispute concerned the proper location of the Temple.

Moses directed Israel to worship Yahweh at the place He chose but did not specify its location in the Promised Land. Because Jews accepted the rest of the Old Testament, they assumed the correct site was Jerusalem. The Samaritans argued for Mount Gerizim in Samaria, pointing for scriptural authorization to Genesis 12:6-7: “Abram passed through the land unto the place of Shechem, unto the oak of Moreh...And Yahweh appeared to Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there built he an altar unto Yahweh” (Deuteronomy 11:29-30, 12:5).

Jesus then explained to her: “There is coming an hour when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…there is coming an hour and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for even such as these is the Father seeking as his worshippers. God is spirit; they that worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Rather than resolve the dispute, Jesus described a new order of worship established in him in which questions about holy sites were pointless. His words indicated the obsolescence of the Jerusalem Temple or any competing structure on Mount Gerizim.
What mattered was not where God’s people worshipped but how (“An hour is coming and now is”). God’s people regardless of ethnicity must from now on worship him as Father by means of spirit and truth. Likewise, the division between Jew and Samaritan had reached its expiration point.

As elsewhere in John’s gospel, “hour” refers to Christ’s death and resurrection, the “hour” of his glorification. After his resurrection, the Spirit would be given to believers. Jesus was ushering in a new state of affairs in which external ritual practices would be replaced by true spiritual worship (John 7:37-39).

With the death and resurrection of Jesus, traditional restrictions based on holy space were no longer relevant. God’s presence could not be limited to buildings or geographic locations.  Jesus was now the true “holy place” where God was to be worshipped, the locus of Yahweh’s presence.

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