During one of Jesus’ preaching tours with this apostles, he made a decision to go to Samaria to preach the good news of the Kingdom. And it was during this preaching tour that Jesus gave one of the most important lessons in worshiping the Father. And he gave it to an unlikely candidate under uncommon circumstances. What we can learn from Jesus’ teaching that day can have a profound effect on each one of us as we seek to please our heavenly Father.
On this certain day, Jesus and his apostles arrived at the Samaritan city of Sychar. While the apostles went into the city, Jesus sat at the well outside of the city, known as Jacob’s Well. He was thirsty from his journey, but he had no way of getting water from the well. So while sitting there:
“When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 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”
– John 4:7-9
She was much surprised to have a Jewish man speak to her and ask for water, for it was not deemed proper in those days for a self-respecting man to speak to a woman in public, much less for a Jew to converse with a Samaritan.
Also, for more than six hundred years, the Jews of Judea had been at enmity with the Samaritans. The religious enmity dated from the return of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, when the Samaritans worked to prevent the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Later they offended the Jews by extending friendly assistance to the armies of Alexander. In return for their friendship, Alexander gave the Samaritans permission to build a temple on Mount Gerizim, where they worshiped Jehovah and their tribal gods and offered sacrifices much after the order of the temple services at Jerusalem. The antagonisms between the Jews and the Samaritans were time-honored and historic; increasingly since the days of Alexander they had had no dealings with each other. Nevertheless, Jesus engaged her:
“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, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
– John 4:10-12
To her surprise, Jesus responded:
“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them 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 4:13-15
She did not know how to take Jesus' willingness to talk with her. She must have beheld in the Master's face the countenance of an upright and holy man, but it appears that she may have mistaken his friendliness for commonplace familiarity given the sternness of Jesus’ reply:
“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. What you have just said is quite true.” “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.’”
– John 4:16-19
Jesus’ response opened her eyes to new possibilities for information. Here was a prophet! Though Jesus had spoken to her of life giving waters, she did what so many have done before and since. She dodged the issue of personal salvation by turning to a discussion of theology and philosophy. She chose to address the theological controversy of her day. Pointing over to Mount Gerizim, she continued:
“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
– John 4:20
Jesus perceived the attempt of the woman to avoid direct and searching contact with him, but he also saw that there was present in her a desire to know the better way of life. After all, she did express her thirst for the living water; therefore he dealt patiently with her, saying:
“‘Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, 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 the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.’”
– John 4:21-24
Here, Jesus makes a startling announcement. He told the woman that, from that point forward, God is no longer concerned with where we worship – this mountain, that mountain; this church, that church; etc. What matters to the Father is that we do worship and that the worship we give is practiced in spirit and truth. Salvation comes not from knowing how others should worship or where we should worship, but by receiving into our own heart this living water of truth, worshiping where we are and as we are.
But the woman would make one more effort to avoid the discussion of her personal life and her status before God. Once more she resorted to questions of general theology:
“The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.’"
– John 4:25-26
This was the first direct, positive, and undisguised pronouncement of his divine nature and sonship that Jesus had made on earth; and it was made to a woman, a Samaritan woman, and a woman of questionable character in the eyes of men, but a woman whom the divine eye beheld as a human soul who desired salvation, sincerely and wholeheartedly, and that was enough.
At this point, the apostles returned and the woman rushed off to the city to tell her fellow Samaritans of this Great Teacher. In response, they followed her back to the well. (John 4:27-30):
“Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.’”
– John 4:39-42
We learn a few lessons from this interchange between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. First, we learn that there are no barriers to whom the life giving waters of truth of the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man can be preached. Longstanding religious conflict do not stand in the Father’s way. And we learn that there is no partiality with God. Our background, history, race, gender does not matter. As Paul said:
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
– Galatians 3:28
We learn that if we want salvation, we must keep our focus on the life giving waters of spirit and truth, rather than on theology or religious philosophy. Worshiping with spirit and truth is the only way to successfully approach the Father.
But what was the real import of Jesus’ words? What is worship? What does it mean to worship with spirit? What does it mean to worship with truth? When we are clear on these concepts, we will understand the depth of divine impartiality and how spirit and truth transcend denominations and unite all of mankind as sons of God and brothers of Christ and of each other.