Tuesday, May 24, 2016

True Worship

Unlike most of his contemporaries, Jesus liked Samaritans. He even made a hero of one in that parable about taking care of your neighbor. In fact, one time he was accused of being one. Anyway, when he and his disciples were on the road one midday, he told them he was going through Samaria. They went into town to buy lunch while he stopped at a well and asked a Samaritan woman to give him some water.

She was quite surprised at this because of the great division between his people and hers. He does not share that hang-up, though, and metaphorically offers her “living water.” As often happened with Jesus’ teaching, she misunderstood the figurative language and asked him how he was going to draw water without a bucket. When the Lord explained that he was talking about eternal life, she still misunderstood and asked him to give her some of that everlasting water so she would not have to come draw water every day. She mistook salvation for a labor-saving device.

It was at that point that he revealed his supernatural insight into her life. After telling her to call her husband, she said she had none. He replied, that’s right, you have had five and the one you are living with now is not your husband. Her response was a little surprising. She simply stated her conviction that he was a prophet, so she asked him about the longstanding controversy between their two peoples concerning the right place to worship. There are people like that. Their lives are in a shambles and they would not darken the door of any church but they are interested in pontificating about religious issues they know very little about.

He explained to her, in effect, that worship was not about nationality, place or religious rules, but about worshipping sincerely—in spirit and truth. Not ready to accept that answer, she said, something like, well, I will wait for the Messiah to clarify the issue. That is when he told her that he was the Messiah. She immediately went into town and testified about the experience and many came out to be instructed of the Lord, many believing in him. He stayed two days.

About 700 years before Christ, the Assyrians attacked Samaria and took away all the brightest and best. As the area tried to recover from devastation, their Jewish religious system was weakened.  They used only the Torah and worshipped on a mountain there locally instead of in Jerusalem, thus seeming inferior and in deep error to the people of Jerusalem. Jesus visited the area to show that true worship, that done in spirit and truth, is broad and inclusive, not narrow and exclusive. In short, he put forth a religion of the heart. That fact recalls what he told the ultra-religious Pharisees—you draw near God with your lips, but your hearts are far from him. In saying that, he was quoting one of the Pharisees’ favorite prophets—Isaiah. Religious activity does not fool God. It is our hearts he longs for.

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