A Story to Tell
Don't Chase Religious Rabbits
Take Questions Seriously
We have two non sequiturs in a row—Jesus’ comment, “Go, get your husband,” and the woman’s comment, “Our ancestors worshiped.” The woman’s comments seem not to follow from Jesus’ comments. He changes the subject to her marital status, and she changes the subject to Mount Gerizim.
- She really does change the subject. They do not return to the question of her marital status.
- That does not mean that she has left it mentally and spiritually. It does mean that she does not want to talk about it any further with the man beside the well.
- It also means that the identity of Jesus is uppermost in her mind. She may be probing for an answer to this question about worship because she wants to verify the notion that is formulating in her mind—that Jesus could be the Messiah.
Sometimes people become uncomfortable with the presentation of the gospel. It is very personal and can be upsetting. They try a little misdirection in the conversation to pull you away from what troubles them and take you on a conversational journey that is more generic and less threatening.
Questions are good, not bad. So we ought to take them seriously. Even when they seem like misdirection, they are significant in that they reveal where the mind of the hearer is going as they process our story.
Progress is being made. “I see that you are a prophet.” The Woman sees something. She is learning who Jesus is.
- This is a title of significant respect. She is not discounting Jesus with this statement. She is actually amazed at him and his comments to her, and this is how she expresses it.
- A prophet has influence among them. He is the spokesman for God.
Two Key Questions:
“I’ve been meaning to ask someone this question.” Everyone has religious questions, even atheists. They want to know why if not where or how. So this woman is typical of the population. She has questions. She couches these questions in statements that she now makes to Jesus.
Our ancestors: Are the people of faith who taught me and came before me wrong in their belief?
- We cannot imagine how very entrenched she and her people are in their own history and heritage.
- She has already described this well as “Jacob’s well.” The Samaritans belong to the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jews would say they have corrupted that faith. But they trace their religious beliefs and practices back to the same patriarchs as the Jews.
- She has already suggested that Jacob is very great. “Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this well?” The obvious answer to that question is, “Of course not.” The ancestors are always greater than our contemporaries. The generation of the World War II veterans has been described as the “greatest generation” by Tom Brokaw. They lived through the depression. They fought and defeated Hitler and the Third Reich. They are definitely worthy of our honor and respect.
- But here’s the point: the greatest generation is always some other generation, usually that of our parents, but always some previous time. We idealize our history. We always long for what used to be. We feel like our story is not as great as theirs.
- This question of who is the greatest comes up a lot in the New Testament. The disciples argued about it. Jesus said that John the Baptist was as great as any who came before him. But he also said that the least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than him. But that I understand that Jesus was emphasizing the great importance of the church which was about to emerge through his ministry and that of his apostles.
- The truth here: the generation that experienced the presence of Jesus as God in the flesh and produced the twelve apostles who turned the world upside-down could be called the greatest generation. Jesus is greater than all who came before him.
Our worship: Are we worshiping as we should?
- The woman used the word proskuneo which means “to kiss the hand” or “to kneel before.”
- There are lots of different approaches to worship—variations in place, time, and style. She is wondering about the place right now—this mountain here or Jerusalem.
- Modern worship includes things like “air conditioning.” My church in Temple, Texas, actually put “air conditioned” on the sign affixed to their sanctuary back in the 60s. It was a new innovation, and people really enjoyed it.
Three Answers from Jesus:
“You Samaritans worship what you do not know” (v22).
- It is important to realize that people can worship what they do not know. They think they know. But they don’t know.
- There is something to know about God, according to Jesus, that is the foundation for the act of worship.
“Salvation (soteria) is from the Jews” (v22), the Savior (Soter) said. The very idea of salvation as a spiritual need presupposes the sinful condition that Jesus just identified in the woman.
- We need salvation, all of us, from our sins.
- Salvation comes “from the Jews,” Jesus said. What does that mean?
- The history of God’s activity in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their descendants, the nation of Israel, is fundamental to understanding who God is. The work of God which began in Abraham culminates in God becoming flesh in Jesus.
- This does not mean that God has not been at work in other people groups. God is seeking to make himself known to all people. All people have general revelation from which they can discern truth about the Creator God.
- It does mean that the Creator God has chosen to reveal himself most fully to the human race through the people and history of Israel. He has done this in order that his work and person might be concrete for those who experienced it and historical for those of us who come behind them.
Worship must be in the Spirit and in the truth.
- The new time has come. He is certainly speaking about his own presence on the plant as God’s Chosen One.
- He is speaking about the dramatic shift from the geographical and physical promises made to Israel to the new translation and reality of those promises—Spirit and truth.
- He is talking about the soon-coming baptism of the Holy Spirit that will transform forever the way that people relate to God. This is not simply the inner you worshiping God. This is the inner you connected to the indwelling Spirit of God.
- Jesus is moving from a specific place like Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem to the heart of the Worshiper.
- He is speaking about truth as embodied in himself—the way, the truth, and the life. Pilate asked “What is truth?” The answer is, Jesus is Truth.
The Father is seeking these worshipers.
- The woman used the term “father” to refer to Jacob. Here Jesus uses the term to refer to God. I don’t know if this was a new thought to the woman, but it the key way that Jesus addressed the Creator God and taught us to do so.
- The Father is seeking the lost. He is looking for worshipers who will worship him in Spirit—their spirits united with His Spirit through the work of Christ Jesus upon the cross.